Archive for the ‘1 Corinthians’ Category

As Christians, we might understand why Jesus rose from the dead, but the idea that WE will also rise from the dead is perhaps a bit more confusing. Paul answers more questions about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49.

1 Corinthians 15:35-49, “More Questions about the Resurrection”

Sometimes, we come across things that don’t make sense…at least, to us. Other people get it straight away, but we have a difficult time seeing it. Like certain optical illusions, when there are supposed to be two different images represented but we only see one while everyone else sees two, it gets confusing. At least, it’s confusing until someone points it out to us, at which it becomes impossible not to see it.

If we’re being honest, there are certain theological concepts that are the same way. We know what we’re supposed to believe and we want to believe it…we just have a difficult time understanding how it all works. It doesn’t make sense at first glance and we need a bit of help putting it together to see it from a different perspective. 

For some, the resurrection might fit into that category, especially our own resurrection. We might somewhat understand Jesus’ resurrection, being able to take it as a matter of faith knowing that it is part of His declaration and identity as the Son of God. But we have an easier time believing it because Jesus is God. As for us…well, perhaps our future resurrection is a bit more difficult to understand. After all, we’ve all seen people die; we haven’t seen regular people raised from the dead. We know the Bible tells us that it will happen one day, but that day seems so far off in the future. To that end, it seems more like a storybook or fairy tale, rather than a matter of fact.

Moreover, some people even try to explain it away. Because it seems difficult to understand it becomes easy to write off. They spiritualize it, talking about a symbolic resurrection rather than a physical one. They look at the supernatural aspects and claim that it isn’t possible. To them, it isn’t even logical, so why would God do it? Why would anyone expect it?

Yet this is the plain teaching of the Bible. Everyday men and women will rise again. God’s plan for mankind was always for us to live eternally…that was how our bodies were designed. This changed during the Fall, which makes it one more thing that Jesus restores in His work of redemption. Our future resurrection is not a fairy tale myth; it is an essential part of the fulfillment of our salvation!

Our questions about the resurrection are not unique. The same issues arose among the church in Corinth. These are the questions Paul was answering in his letter. On the one hand, the Christians claimed to believe the gospel; on the other hand, some among them doubted a key element of it. The resurrection seemed foolish to them, rather than crucial, making the whole gospel of God to be foolishness rather than being the wisdom of God with the power to save. This was no minor problem; the resurrection is foundational to our faith. Perhaps this was why Paul ensured he gave this subject special attention towards the end of his letter, after he was able to address all the other issues and controversies.

He began at the logical starting place: the gospel. If he was to address concerns about the resurrection, he needed first to establish its place within the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It was part and parcel of the good news of Jesus, which Paul had previously preached to Corinth and which Paul himself had received from others. It was the news that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the grave, all according to the Scriptures. This gospel (specifically the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ) was not merely recited as religious dogma; it was verified by literally hundreds of eyewitnesses, including those who were inclined to be the most skeptical. Jesus is risen from the dead. It is a matter of historical fact.

Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential. Paul demonstrated this by asking and answering a series of questions, all logically connected to one another. What if the resurrection were not true? If no one is ever raised from the dead, how could Jesus be raised from the dead? What would that mean for the future plans of God regarding the Millennial Kingdom and eternity? How would it affect multitudes of Christians today, if they had no resurrection hope? To all these questions Paul demonstrated that it is futile to believe in a resurrection-less Christianity. Without a literal resurrection, we have no proven Christ, no reason to believe, and no reason to live righteously. To remove the resurrection is to gut the gospel, leading to terrible results.

Thankfully, Jesus is risen from the dead! Again, this is a matter of historical record and need not be doubted. We can hold by faith to the gospel message knowing that it is true – it is the very word of God and He does not lie.

That said, we might still have some questions. Perhaps the Corinthians believed Paul regarding Jesus, having faith in the basics of the good news of Jesus Himself. Even so, there might still exist questions regarding how it applies to us. How will we as born-again Christians experience our own resurrection? Does it even make sense? What is involved with it? These are the issues Paul addresses as he continues Chapter 15. Clearing up any remaining confusion about the resurrection, Paul makes four points:

  1. The resurrection is logical.
  2. The resurrection is visible.
  3. The resurrection is practical.
  4. The resurrection is vital.

There may be many things about the resurrection that are mysterious, but we can know this much: our resurrection is a vital part of God’s redemptive plan for us, and it is accomplished through His omnipotent power.

1 Corinthians 15:35–49

  • The resurrection is logical (35-38). The premise.

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”

  1. As Paul does so often in his letters (particularly his letter to the Romans), he anticipated the questions of skeptics – and not just people outright skeptical to the gospel itself, but also that of real Christians with hesitations and doubts. It is neither unusual nor sinful for real Christians to have real questions. Sincere believers in Jesus sometimes have sincere issues and misunderstandings. Consider Martha’s and Mary’s questions for Jesus at the grave of their brother Lazarus (Jn 11). They couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t there when it seemed they needed Him most. If He had been in Bethany a few days earlier, Lazarus would never have died. Even at the gravesite in Jesus’ presence, they couldn’t grasp Jesus’ instructions to roll away the stone. Martha hesitated, telling Jesus that because Lazarus had been dead four days, there would be the stench of rot. Jesus reminded her that if she would believe, she would see the glory of God (Jn 11:40). As glorious as the miracle was, we can understand Martha’s hesitancy. Emotionally, she did believe Jesus, wanting everything He said to be true. Yet intellectually, she stumbled. She couldn’t see how it would be true. – Sometimes, born-again believers stumble. We might want something to be true Biblically, but when we cannot immediately nor easily explain it, we might inadvertently dismiss it. Be careful! Just because we might not personally have or understand the answer does not mean that answers do not exist. There is nothing wrong with having the questions; just be sure to believe Biblical truth by faith as you seek to understand the answers.
  2. Of course, there are others who are not There are some skeptics who try to look for holes in the Christian faith, trying to discredit the gospel. The Bible has answers for them, too…though it might not be the answers they want. Everything the Bible teaches about Jesus is true, but it will remain foolishness to the stubborn and hardhearted. God resists the proud while giving grace to the humble. To those who want to shake their fists at God, you might do so today, but be assured that you will one day answer for your rebellion. God does not owe you answers but you do owe Him your worship as your Creator. Beware that you do not hide behind your questions simply as an excuse to maintain your sin.
  3. As for the questions themselves, what Paul lists is straightforward. It boils down to this: how. How is it done? By what power are dead people raised from the dead? Once someone is dead and decomposing, what body is raised up if it is all true? Does the Bible promote the idea of a bunch of zombies? How are the bodies fit back together? It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, which makes it fodder for those who want to try to poke holes in the Bible.

36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.

  1. With the answer comes a bit of chastisement. It seems that Paul thinks more of the rebellious skeptics here than the sincere Christians with questions. The New Testament never shows the word used for “foolish one” in a complimentary sense. And yes, the skeptic should be chastised on this. The kinds of questions raised are questions that put human limitations on the omnipotent God. Do we really think that Almighty God is limited by method? Do we truly believe that God ever sits back and wonders how He might accomplish something, as if He got stumped by a problem? We get stumped, not God. (Not that it takes much. Some of us get stumped just trying to put together furniture from Ikea!) God has no such limitations. Making the impossible possible is simply what God does. Speaking to the prophet Jeremiah about His plan to both judge Jerusalem via Babylonian conquest as well as His ultimate plan to bring Israel back into the land, God says: Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” The question is rhetorical because the answer is obvious: No…nothing is too hard for the Lord God! How foolish it is to believe otherwise. If God says it, God can and will do it. We might not know how, but God does. And what God says He will do is the only thing that matters.
  2. As for the answer itself, Paul starts with a basic premise: “what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.” At first glance, this might seem contradictory. How can something live if it first dies? We need to be careful not to jump too far ahead in our assumptions. Notice that Paul does not start with the idea of death, but with sowing. Paul is not writing of some grand Frankenstein experiment where dead things find life coming out of nowhere; he writes of the process of sowing seed. Even to our modern 21st century minds, this is relatable. We may not have as much experience with agriculture as the average person of the 1st century (or 1st through 19th centuries, and ongoing for much of the rest of the world!), but even the most “city-fied” person living in a downtown apartment knows what happens when a seed is planted. What appears to be dead (a seed) quickly comes to life when buried. Death does not inherently lead to life; sowing/planting does. Thus, this isn’t contradictory at all; it is something we witness on a regular basis.

37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

  1. Again, the idea is that of a seed. The type of seed doesn’t really matter, be it “wheat,” rice, corn, “some other grain,” or even some kind of flower, fruit, or vegetable. Any seed that is put into the ground under the right conditions undergoes a change. Genetically, it is still the same. An apple tree is not genetically different than its fruit, which itself is not genetically different than its seed. Each aspect of the “apple” looks drastically different, but it all had the same origination and same basic genetic code. What makes the difference between the forms (or the “bodies”)? The will and design of God. As verse 38 says, “God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.” God makes an apple seed into an apple tree and an apple fruit, according to His will. Likewise with wheat, barley, oats, or any other horticultural product we can imagine. Whatever seed is sown into the ground bears life and grows into the body that God wills for it. In fact, it might be said that this is God’s whole purpose for the seed from the start. Each plant starts as a seed, but God’s ultimate will for that plant is not for it to remain a seed, but to grow into a fully-grown plant that produces fruit in a kind of new life.
  2. The application ought to be obvious. The human body buried into the ground is a sown seed, and God has a will and a purpose for that body. There will be a fundamental change, and what comes up will have major differences from that which is planted, but it is all the same person. Moreover, that new body was God’s ultimate will for that person from the beginning. The first body was merely a seed; the raised body is God’s end-goal. This is all done according to God’s pleasure and God’s design.
    1. That is a big truth and Paul has much to say on this subject as he goes through the passage. For now, consider this much: our future resurrection is a key part of the eternal plan of God. It is part of His design for us, having conceived of our future resurrection body before we are ever given any physical body. God knit us together one way knowing that our current bodies will one day change. These bodies are important, but ultimately, they are little more than seeds. Our current bodies are used in the future resurrection, but God has a design and plan to change them into something far greater. And imagine the benefits: if it is possible for us to glorify God with our current bodies today (which we can, per 1 Cor 6:10), imagine how we will be able to glorify God in the resurrection! 
  3. As an aside: What does this mean for cremation? The picture of a sown seed obviously refers to burial. What happens with bodies that are burned instead of buried? Cremation used to be uncommon among Christians but is now practiced on a regular basis, if for no other reason than the less expensive cost. But it raises some concerns for people. Are cremated bodies not truly “sown” into the ground? Is there nothing left for God to raise in resurrection? – To this, we need to remember the almighty power of the Creator God. God originally formed Adam from the dust; it is no problem for Him to re-form cremated Christians from the dust. Besides, it has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Most of the Christians who have died in the past two millennia have already turned to dust, even though they were buried. Their bodies decomposed, with even the bones decaying into the basic elements. Other Christians were buried at sea, or were tragically thrown to wild beasts to be eaten, etc. None of this poses any difficulty for God. God will raise each and every born-again Christian from the dead, exactly according to His promise. He does not limit His grace only to those who were buried in impenetrable caskets. Just like God knit each of our bodies in the wombs of our mothers, so will He give us new restored bodies in the resurrection, regardless of burial, organ donation, cremation, or the like.

This is the basic premise, and it makes logical sense. God can do anything, and because God’s design is to use the seeds of our current bodies to bring forth renewed resurrection bodies, that is exactly what He will do. It makes sense…as well it should! Although there are many theological truths we hold by faith, there is none of which we hold without reason. Biblical Christianity is a logical, reasonable faith. We serve the God who created logic and reason, so why would the truths He gives us to believe about His design be any different?

Consider for a moment how different this is from other religions throughout history. We don’t believe in a bunch of gods and goddesses who bicker with each other on Mount Olympus in Greece. Nor do we believe in a god who demands you tell the truth to him but permits you to lie to infidels or who promises dozens of virgins to men who commit mass murder. Not only do those false religions contain inherent contradictions, some of their basic premises don’t even make logical sense. To be sure, Biblical Christianity is founded on supernatural miracles, such as Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead, but at its core, it still makes sense. Our sin broke God’s law – God sent His Son to pay our fine – those who receive Jesus as Lord and as the sacrifice for our sin are saved. This is reasonable – it is logical. Moreover, it is true.

  • The resurrection is visible (39-41). Illustrations and examples.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.

  1. Again, the issue is fairly straightforward. Paul describes the variety of flesh among animal life. Be it humans, animals, flesh, or birds, it’s all different from one another even as it is all created by the same God. Even among humans, we are each unique. Although we all have the same basic shape and the same color of blood, we all have different fingerprints. Our DNA is individual to each of the 6 billion+ people on the planet. Our God gives incredible variety among various kinds of flesh.
  2. What does any of this have to do with the resurrection? Look back at verse 38: “But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.” Each one of these kinds of flesh is an example of the various bodies that come from different seeds. These are the different bodies chosen by God for each kind/type of “seed.”

40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

  1. Just as there is variety on this planet, there is variety beyond our planet. There is a great difference among the many planets and stars throughout our solar system and beyond. There are the relatively tiny, rocky planets like Mercury closest to the Sun; there are the massive gas giants like Jupiter, in which 1300 Earths could fit. Not only are there different kinds of flesh, but there are also different kinds of glories (lights or appearances). The Sun looks different from the Moon, for good reason. Although both shine, the Sun generates its own light while the Moon reflects the light of the Sun. Likewise, certain stars shine brighter in the sky than others.
  2. The point? God designed this universe in a certain way. While there are many similarities and commonalities that point to common Designer, there is also a great amount of variety according to the creative will of God.

The illustrations may be simple, but they make sense. These are all the varieties of ways God has worked in creation already. We can see with our own eyes the manifold works of God. Why then, would we object to an additional kind of flesh or glory in the resurrection body? Why would we think it to be unusual? It is just one more example of what God has already done.

  • The resurrection is practical (42-45). The method.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

  1. Just in case the point wasn’t clear, Paul spells out the meaning of the various examples: “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” The variety seen among the different lifeforms and planetary bodies and lights ought to give us the same expectation of seeing something different in the resurrection. That the resurrection body might be physically different than our current body, while still being the same stuff as our current body is not something that is impossible or illogical. Does it require God’s miraculous power? Of course…but so does every other form of life or body. Unless God puts it together, it doesn’t exist. Likewise with our resurrection bodies. It goes into the ground one way; it comes up another. Paul gives several contrasts showing the transformation differences…
  2. Corruption vs. incorruption. That our current bodies are corruptible ought to come as no surprise. Bodies decay…sometimes breaking down even before we’re ready! The physical strength a person has at 70 years old is nowhere close to what he/she had at 20. And of course, when the physical body is put into the grave, it decomposes. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But that is not how it will be in the resurrection! In the resurrection, our bodies will be incorruptible. When we are raised, we will be raised forever. Our bodies will last, not breaking down, not failing in middle age (because we will not have a middle age!).
  3. Dishonor vs. glory. If the first contrasts speaks to physicality, the second speaks more to morality. Consider the reason our bodies fail: sin. The wages of sin is death. Because we all sin individually (and because we have all inherited a sinful nature from Adam), all die. Thus, our bodies are “sown in dishonor.” Even when we consider a person to have died honorably as with a great military sacrifice, death is inherently dishonorable because death would not exist without sin. But praise God for the contrast, for our resurrection bodies will be “raised in glory.” The glory had by Jesus is the glory we will receive as His followers and co-heirs. We will be raised in bodies without a sinful nature and thus we will never again be tempted to sin. This is the final ‘phase’ of salvation, which will only be experienced in eternity. Today, we can know justification (our forgiveness) and sanctification (our being set apart for Jesus and conformed to Jesus’ image), but we cannot know glorification. In the resurrection, we will.
  4. Weakness vs. power. As with the idea of corruption, it comes as no surprise that Paul describes our current physical bodies as weak. Relatively speaking, even the biggest powerlifters among us have weak and frail bodies. Even if you can bench-press twice your bodyweight, you can still be killed by a microscopic blood clot. Today, our bodies are frail; in the resurrection they will be powerful. Not that we look for the kind of Hollywood superpower strength; rather, they will be bodies that will never grow weak nor die. The book of Revelation speaks of how we will no longer experience death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4). The tiny things that can wreak havoc upon us today will be unable to touch us in the resurrection.

44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

  1. Natural vs. spiritual. The terminology is interesting and perhaps a bit difficult to translate. The word rendered “natural” and “being” (v45) is psuchikos/psyche (ψυχικός/ψυχή), and it does pertain to the things of the natural world, but the noun form can also refer to the soul. Some might paraphrase Paul as referring to a “soulish” body. That perhaps forms a more distinct contrast with the “spiritual body,” of which Paul uses a word he has repeated much through the letter of 1 Corinthians: pneumatikos/pneuma (πνευματικός/πνεῦμα) for “spiritual” and “spirit.” This is the same word Paul used back in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 referring the spiritual gifts, technically calling them “spirituals,” as in, “spiritual things.” This is the same word used earlier in the letter to refer to spiritual maturity (which the Corinthians did not have).
  2. What is the contrast? What goes into the ground is natural and soulish; what comes up is spiritual. What goes into the ground is tainted by sin; what comes up is not. Where is this best seen? It is the difference between Adam and Jesus. The first man in all creation, formed by God Himself from the dust of the earth was named Adam. That man “became a living being.” In other words, that man was nothing but dust until God breathed life into him. At that point, he became a living soul. Jesus, however, is different. Jesus (labeled here as “the last Adam”) does not receive life; He gives it. The first Adam had to receive of the work of God; the last Adam is God. The last Adam gives the things of the spirit because He and the Spirit are one just like He and the Father are one.
  3. This has amazing theological ramifications (as Paul will demonstrate in a moment), but it is this aspect about the resurrection that makes all of the difference in the world when it comes down to how this works out, practically. How is it that our bodies will be raised in incorruption, in glory, and in power? Because our bodies will be raised according to God’s Spirit, just as Jesus’ own body was raised. Our current bodies follow the pattern of Adam, with all the corruption and dishonor and weakness. In the resurrection, all of that is gone. Our bodies will be like Jesus’ body. What was Jesus able to do in His resurrection? Everything the disciples were able to do and much more. He had a physical body that could be seen and touched. He had a mouth and stomach that could eat and drink. But He also had a body for which locked doors were no problem. He had a body that death could not hold. Somehow, in some way, our bodies will be like His. No, we will not be made omnipotent little “gods”…but we will have physical bodies that are spiritually and supernaturally transformed. Those bodies will still be our bodies, just like Jesus’. When He wanted to be recognized, Jesus was readily recognized. In the resurrection, you will still be you and I will still be me. We will be able to know and recognize each other, as the bodies that go into the ground will rise from the ground. But our bodies will be spiritually transformed and remade from the inside-out. Remember that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead (v20). Our resurrection will follow in the same example as His.

To say that the resurrection is practical is to say that it works. There are certain results that are accomplished through the miraculous transformation of our physical bodies by Almighty God. The things He does will be amazing, and the practical aspect of it makes the idea of heaven so much better. I don’t know about you, but the common idea of heaven as people floating around like disembodied ghosts playing harps doesn’t sound very appealing. Our general culture (and even our church culture) tends to promote the picture of heaven as monochromatic white nothingness, with people going from place to place acting like they’re on Valium or some other psychotropic drug. To borrow a term from the British: rubbish! That isn’t the picture painted by the Bible at all. The Bible writes of a new heaven and a new earth, with gardens and rivers and fruits. It tells us that we will have real bodies with real experiences. We will have conversations, sing songs, eat at feasts, and more. All of what we experience as good in this world will be in eternity…only much better. That ought to give us something to look forward to…as well as want other people to experience with us.

  • The resurrection is vital (46-49). The theology.

46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.

  1. There is a necessary chronological order of bodies. We don’t get the spiritual body first; we get the natural (soulish). Why? Because we certainly wouldn’t want it in the opposite order! Think again about the picture of a seed. We expect a seed to grow into a tree; not a tree shrinking back down into a seed. A mature tree produces seeds; it does not regress into one. For us to go from the spiritual to the natural would be a regression, backwards. God designed us to grow into something glorious, which is what the natural comes first, then the spiritual.
  2. This too, is seen in the contrast between Adam and Jesus. Adam shows the natural, whereas Jesus shows the spiritual. Adam was formed from natural stuff. Jesus was not formed (being that He is the eternally begotten Son of God), but His ‘origin’ (for lack of a better word) is from heaven. The issue is their composition. The “first man” is of “dust;” the “second Man” is “from heaven.” 

48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

  1. As seen earlier in Chapter 15, this is the idea of federal headship. Look again at verses 21-22: “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” By way of review, this is the concise way of Paul saying everything he said to the Romans in the 5th chapter, when he described how both Adam and Jesus are representatives of all those who are under their headship and example. Romans 5:12–14, “(12) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(13) (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (14) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Because Adam is the first of mankind, he serves as the progenitor and representative of mankind. And the consequences that fell upon Adam fell upon all who followed in his lineage, having his sinful nature passed to us via his seed. Yet things changed with the Second Man, the Last Adam, Jesus (of whom the original Adam was a type/picture). In Jesus, we receive grace and life because of Jesus’ victorious work at the cross and resurrection. Romans 5:18–19, “(18) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (19) For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” This is what is described by the term “federal headship.” As men and women, we are either grouped under one federal head or the other. By default, we are already under the headship of Adam which results in judgment and condemnation due to sin. But by faith, we can be placed under the headship of Jesus, by which we are justified unto life and are made righteous.
  2. This same concept applies to what takes place with our physical bodies, both before and after the resurrection. Because Adam is our default federal head, we are born with bodies made from dust just like his body was formed from the dust. But when we have faith in Jesus Christ, our resurrection bodies bear His heavenly likeness. In Adam, we are naturally soulish and doomed to decay back into the dust from whence we came. Yet in Christ, those who have been saved by His grace have the promise of a glorious transformation. Our resurrection bodies will be made of the same stuff and substance as Jesus’ resurrection body. We will no longer be of earthy dust, but of heavenly spirit. We will have the same image as that of Jesus – not the darkness of earth but reflecting the glory of God. (Which gives an interesting parallel to the illustrations in vss. 39-41 of the varieties of flesh and glories among the universe.)

It is a bit of deep theology, but the theology is important. What difference does it make to us for our bodies to be remade in the resurrection? It makes all the difference for us to experience eternity! How else are we to live eternally, unless we have bodies that are equipped to do so? People today often look to add years to their lives, which is great up to a certain point. If you remain healthy and active all the way to 100 years old, praise God…but not everyone does. Some people might add a few years to their lives, but those years aren’t exactly glorious. Certain drugs might keep our hearts beating, but they don’t necessarily keep us from being bedridden, unable to walk, or otherwise frail. What good would it be to live to 150 years old, if we couldn’t function?

But that is the wonderful promise we have because of all of this theology. Because Jesus is our federal head, our resurrection bodies will be like His own. Because we will bear His heavenly image, being made of the same stuff as Jesus’ own resurrection body, living 150 years is no longer a problem…or 1000 years, or 10,000 years, or 10 billion years. It won’t be eon after eon of weakness and infirmity, but of health and strength and power and joy. The “seed” of our lives on this earth will pass away, but that which God brings forth will be better than we can imagine. It will truly be life to the fullest and it will always be that way.

Understand that this is the culmination of our redemption. When Jesus died for us and rose again from the dead, it was not for us to have a temporary or imaginary hope; it was for us to be guaranteed a permanent everlasting reconciliation with our Creator God. We will always be in His presence, always in joyful fellowship with Him, always living as He designed us to live. We often talk about the promise of heaven…this is what it will be like! In terms of books, heaven isn’t designed to be “the end;” it is “happily ever after.” Life goes on (and on, and on). The way we will experience it is through our glorified, resurrected bodies, made possible through the redemption of Jesus Christ. And that is why this mysterious theology is so very, very good.

Conclusion:

Praise God for the resurrection! Not only for the glorious and fundamental resurrection of Jesus Christ which makes our salvation possible, but for our future resurrection as well. Though certainly mysterious and supernatural, it is logical (reasonable with a sound premise) – it is visible (being already illustrated through various examples on earth) – it is practical (having real benefits to us in heaven) – and it is a vital part of our theology (being the culmination of our redemption in Jesus).

Is it a lot to absorb and comprehend? Yes. Might we still have questions? Sure. But how glorious to know that God has answers for our questions and has plans for our future resurrection, even if we do not fully understand it. God has reasons for all He does because He is the all-wise God.

“Okay, I get it. Even if I don’t totally understand all the details, I get that God has all of it worked out. That’s all well and good for eternity, but how does this help me today? What does this matter to me now, as I try to put bread on the table for my family and get through daily life?” Simple: it’s a matter of perspective. All of these day-to-day issues we worry about today, we won’t always worry about. All of the pains and struggles we have today, we will not always have. In the grand scheme of things, this life is a blip – it is the blink of an eye. What are 70-80 years, in comparison with 10 billion years+ of eternity? It is for that time that we live, to which we look forward, and for which we prepare. Certainly, we want to enjoy every day as God gives it today, for every day from Him is itself a gift. But even the best of the days of this life are mere shadows of what lays ahead for those of us in Jesus. To know what awaits us in eternity…that is the perspective that will help us endure the trials we face now.

Is it being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good? With due respect to Oliver Wendell Holmes, such a thing isn’t possible. The better a vision we have of heaven, the more we desire to live as citizens of it today. The more we long for eternal glory with God, fellowshipping with Him, the more we want other people to experience it with us. We need a right idea of what awaits us in our resurrection if we are to rightly serve our resurrected Jesus today. It gives us the right perspective and helps us maintain our joy, even when it otherwise appears we have no reason to rejoice.

How about you? Have you lost sight of the eternal perspective – have you gotten distracted by the trials of this life to the point that you’ve lost sight of what we are guaranteed in Jesus? Consider again our future resurrection! Because of Christ, you will always be with the Lord. That is His very promise to you and to me. John 14:1–3, “(1) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (2) In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” We are going to be with Jesus! And not only will we be with Him, we will be with Him forever. That is glorious! And that is a reason to rejoice, even through our temporary tears and troubles.

As Paul continues in Chapter 15, he answers questions about the resurrection. What if it isn’t true? What will we expect in the future? What does it mean for today? The answers are found in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 15:12-34, “Questions about the Resurrection”

Questions can be wonderful when asked honestly. They can be annoying, when they are not. There is a difference between telling your child how much you love him or why you love her when asked, and just answering the repeated question “why?” when asked a thousand times from the back seat of the car. Likewise, there is a difference between engaging in a conversation with a nonbeliever about the gospel of Jesus, and getting into an online debate with a confirmed skeptic who just wants to argue.

It ought not to come as a surprise that people have questions about the Christian faith. After all, when we speak of the gospel, we inherently speak of supernatural miracles – things that cannot be duplicated in everyday life. We tell of how Jesus was born of a virgin and is the incarnate God, how He lived among men and women healing the sick and raising the dead, how He died on the cross as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, was buried, and how He rose again to life on the third day, never to die again being fully and physically ascended into heaven. And that’s just the news about Jesus – we haven’t even begun to get into how this living Jesus interacts with men and women today, forgiving us of our sins, filling us with the Holy Spirit, empowering us to do His work, etc. Yes, there are many things about the gospel that is supernatural, and it is only logical that some of those things are difficult for some people to believe.

They might even be difficult for some Christians to believe. Sure, they know the right words to say in church and the right doctrine to affirm. And maybe they even believe it on some level, perhaps out of only a desire to believe what the Bible teaches. But they still struggle with doubts. They aren’t sure how it all works together and wonder at times if they really believe what is true.

It is true. It is real and can/should be believed. How and what we believe about these things has a massive impact on our own walk with Christ, even indicating if we walk with Christ. This is what Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 15.

After addressing many important issues with the Corinthian Christians such as division, discipline, marriage, divorce, worship, spiritual gifts, and more, Paul turned to that which is most important: the gospel. After all, if we get the gospel wrong, we get everything wrong. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. So, Paul reminded them of its importance, its details, and its trustworthiness. It is the good news by which we are saved, to which we should cling and hold fast. It is the news about Jesus Christ who died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead all according to the Scriptures. And it was news that could be verified through literally hundreds of credible witnesses, including Paul himself who was personally transformed by the living resurrected Christ.

It is amazing news! But is all of it necessary? After all, the gospel includes some fantastic supernatural doctrine such as the resurrection of the dead. Can the good news still be good if we strip out the supernatural elements? For those who have difficulty believing in miracles, can we still value everything else the Bible tells us about Jesus and the cross, while ignoring the more difficult-to-believe stuff?

This seems to have been the issue in Corinth. In that ancient church, like in many parts of what is known as “Christendom” today, there were people who were skeptical about certain doctrinal truths like the resurrection. Specifically, they had difficulty believing that men and women other than Jesus would be one day raised from the dead. God just doesn’t do that sort of thing, so they thought. (Which seems more than a bit ironic, considering how plentiful the expression of various spiritual gifts were among the church!) They thought themselves too “intellectual” to be caught up with that sort of thing…a problem which had manifested in other ways in the congregation and which Paul already addressed earlier in the letter. They wanted to be wise by the standards of their age, rather than be considered a fool for God (3:18).

The same thing happens today. There are men and women with Ph.D.’s in theology who teach at some of the most famous theological seminaries today, who do not believe basic Biblical truth. They do not believe in the supernatural and thus, do not believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. They still label themselves as “Christian,” but they deny the foundations of the gospel.

It is not only foolishness; it is tragic. It guts the Christian faith, harms immature Christians, and does damage to the witness of the church as a whole. It turns the good news of Christ into a make-believe fairy tale, good for nothing except patting ourselves on the backs for how “wise” we believe we are.

This is what Paul tackles head-on in Chapter 15. He shows how the doctrine of the resurrection is essential to the gospel itself, to the overall redemptive plan of God, and to the individual lives of Christians. This is no imaginary belief; it is fact and it is essential truth – without which no one is saved.

Do you believe that God can raise the dead? Only then can you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and only when you believe that can you be saved. Believe!

There is a lot of Scripture to work through in this section. The arguments flow together, making it difficult to break apart without losing the overall context. There are three primary sections, which might be divided according to three questions: What if? What then? What now?

The resurrection is true, which makes the gospel true. Believe and be saved!

1 Corinthians 15:12–34

  • What if? (12-19) The logical results of the resurrection being false.

12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

  1. Recall from the earlier part of the chapter, Paul had declared to the church what he had already preached to the church: the gospel. It was this gospel by which they were saved, and to which they were to hold fast. It was a gospel that could be believed, since Jesus’ physical resurrection was witnessed by so many people: His closest friends, hundreds of people in His wider circle, and even people who were initially skeptics or outright enemies (such as His half-brother James or the apostle Paul as he used to be in his life as a Pharisee). What did that gospel say? That Jesus had “been raised from the dead.
  2. Yet there is more to the doctrine of resurrection than only Jesus’ resurrection. There is the resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). There was a general resurrection when all people would eventually stand before God. This was something Jesus taught on many occasions. There was the resurrection for those who had done good and those who had done evil (Jn 5:28-29). There is Jesus’ response to the Sadducees about the resurrection in which people neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mt 22:30-31). There was Jesus’ comfort to Martha about being the resurrection, after her affirmation that there will be a resurrection in the last day (Jn 11:24-25). The idea that people would physically live after death was a doctrine that Jesus taught regularly. To be sure, not all people would participate in the same resurrection, but all people would face some resurrection.
  3. It was this general resurrection that was doubted by some in Corinth. Yet there was one problem…a big problem: to refute the resurrection is to refute the gospel. Without any resurrection, there is no initial resurrection. If God does not ever raise the dead, it means that He did not raise Jesus. That one bit of skepticism is no minor thing. It guts the gospel itself, having many ramifications which Paul lists…

14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.

  1. Ramification #1: Without a risen Christ, we have an “empty” Christianity. “Our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” What is the point of preaching Christ when there is no Christ to preach? If Jesus did not literally rise from the grave, then there is no point in going to church, nor any reason to respond to a gospel invitation. It is an empty message, void of substance, preached in vain. It has nothing to offer because it offers no proven Christ.
    1. Objection: “Surely there is value in Jesus’ moral teaching! He was the greatest teacher who ever lived, regardless if He rose from the grave.” Every single teaching uttered by Jesus is worthless without His literal resurrection. Why? Because He prophesied it no less than three times (and arguably more!). He repeatedly claimed that the Son of Man (referring to Himself) would be delivered to the Jews, killed, and raised up on the third day. If Jesus got the prophecy of His resurrection wrong, it makes Him a false prophet. False prophets are not to be trusted. In fact, if Jesus got the prophecy of His resurrection wrong, it guts His credibility. CS Lewis famously made this point in his seminal work, Mere Christianity. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”[1] Without the resurrection, Jesus is no good moral teacher; He would be someone not worth remembering at all.
  2. Ramification #2: Without a risen Jesus, the apostolic witness is a testimony of lies. Understand that the issue of Jesus’ resurrection was no minor thing to the apostles. It was their primary Jesus’ resurrection is explicitly referenced no less than 13 times in the book of Acts, and implied countless more. Without a resurrection, the apostles have nothing of which to testify. Everything they said of Him would have been a lie. Thus, not only would Jesus’ credibility be worthless, so would be the apostles.
    1. Simply the fact that the apostles consistently agreed on Jesus’ resurrection is a marvelous testimony to its factual truth. When police arrest a group of criminals for a crime, what is the first thing they do to get to the bottom of what happened? Separate them. At some point, someone is going to change his/her story and the whole supposed alibi will fall apart. Yet this never happened with the apostles. They each consistently testified to the real resurrection of Jesus Christ, never once changing their story even in the face of torture and death. They went to their graves proclaiming His resurrected life, verifying that the message is true.

16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

  1. Ramification #3: Without a risen Jesus, we have a “futile” faith. First, Paul called it “empty;” now he calls it “futile.” What makes the difference? The difference in the words is only slight; we need to look at the context. In verse 13-14, the issue was that Christ was not personally risen from the dead, meaning that there was no Christ to preach. This time, the lack of a Christ to preach has a direct effect on those who believe. How so? We have no forgiveness, “you are still in your sins.” To the Roman church, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification,” (Rom 4:25). Our forgiveness is directly tied to Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, it is tied to the cross in that Jesus died as our substitutionary sacrifice. But we only know His substitution was sufficient in Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead. We only have assurance of our justification because Jesus is risen. Think of it: the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). If Jesus remained dead, then the price He paid wasn’t enough to satisfy the wage. If Jesus remained dead, we still have an outstanding fine. The only way we know it was paid in full is through His resurrection. Yes, Jesus declared it from the cross (“Tetelestai! ~ It is finished!” Jn 19:30), but the only way we know His declaration was valid is through His resurrected life.
    1. Note what this means for those who do not have faith in the risen Jesus: you too, are still in your sins. Only faith in the risen Christ guarantees us forgiveness from sin and eternal life; without faith in the true risen Jesus, you have no such guarantee.

18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

  1. Ramification #4: Without a risen Jesus, there is no hope for those who are dead. Think of all the funerals of our loved ones. Granted, in the cases of those who die without faith, we must sadly admit that they “have perished.” Yes, they will rise for the final judgment, but it is only for them to be forever damned. It is tragic, but it is true. (Which underscores the importance for each of us to settle the question of our salvation now!) But when we attend memorial services for Christians, we have marvelous hope that they are in the presence of God, being absent from the body yet present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). Yet without God raising the dead, and specifically without Jesus’ own resurrection, that hope is dashed – it’s gone. It means that every funeral should be mourned as those who die in their sins and all hope is gone.
  2. Ramification #5: Without a risen Jesus, Christians are “pitiable” fools. How sad and pathetic it would be for us to live out our days deluded, believing in a powerless Christ! If all we held so was some philosophical theory about Christ without any tie to reality, then we are no different from those who believe in leprechauns and unicorns and the Easter Bunny. Moreover, what use is there to suffer for Christ, if Christ is not raised from the dead? Paul will expand on this idea later in the passage, but he alludes to it here. How pathetic it would be for so many people around the world to suffer and die for the sake of Christ, if everything we know about Jesus is a lie.

Those are a bunch of hypothetical questions from Paul, but they need to be asked. What if it isn’t real? What if the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen? Is there still something to gain from Christianity? No. Without a real resurrected Jesus, we have nothing to believe and no reason to believe. We have no hope for eternity and no reason for current suffering. We might as well all go home, for otherwise we’re just wasting our time.

Lest this seem to be a bunch of ancient hypotheticals with no bearing on our present-day church, think again! This is the issue still presented by liberal theologians who wear the label of Christianity but deny its doctrine. This is the issue presented by the social justice warriors, who want to see what people can squeeze out of the morality of the New Testament while gutting it of its main message of redemption through Jesus. Just this past week, the newest senator for Georgia, the “Rev.” Raphael Warnock posted a tweet saying “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”[2] He since deleted the tweet, but the message was clear: in his mind, the resurrection of Jesus does not matter. Let us not mince words: he is a heretic and a false teacher. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christianity nor is there any salvation.

We do need to ask the questions of “what if,” and we also need to examine their answers. Simply put, “what if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?” means that we have no hope in Christ nor any reason to believe anything the Bible says about Him. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we have no gospel and no faith. 

But Jesus did rise from the dead and it makes all the difference in the world!

  • What then? (20-28) The plans of God regarding the resurrection.

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

  1. After all the hypothetical questions of “what if,” it is so refreshing to get Paul’s resounding answer. “Christ is risen from the dead!” Jesus is alive, which was the consistent testimony of Paul throughout his ministry. More than a statement of faith, Paul was a personal eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus and could say without hesitation that yes, Jesus is risen from the dead, and yes, it truly matters that He did!
  2. Additionally, Jesus’ personal resurrection is also the guarantee of our own individual resurrections. Remember that this was at the heart of the Corinthians’ skepticism. Some among them claimed “that there is no resurrection of the dead,” (15:12) and this was the issue that kicked off Paul’s discussion. His answer is: yes, God raises the dead; yes, Jesus is risen from the dead, and yes, we will also rise from the dead. These things go together. Jesus’ resurrection shows Him to be “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The idea of “firstfruits” goes back to the Hebrew harvest offerings to God. They were commanded to bring their firstfruits (the initial parts of their harvests) to the Lord, giving Him the first and the best in their worship and acknowledging God as the one who gave them their crops. Here, Paul says that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. (“Those have fallen asleep” is simply a euphemism to refer to death; nothing more.) In other words, Jesus is the first of many to come. Our resurrection is tied to His own.

21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.

  1. The doctrine is view is that of federal headship, something with Paul explores in detail in Romans 5. Time forbids a thorough examination, but we can summarize it as this: When Adam sinned, his spiritual nature died exactly according to God’s warning. God had told Adam that if he ate of the forbidden fruit, that “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die,” (Gen 2:17). Adam did and Adam died. Not physically (though his physical death did eventually come), but spiritually speaking, Adam died that very day. That nature of death was passed to each of us, for we are all born of Adam’s lineage. He is our federal head. Yet Jesus came as the second Adam, serving as another federal head. Whereas Adam brought sin and death, Jesus brings the gift of life to all who believe.
  2. Don’t lose sight of the overall point. Paul has been addressing the skepticism of those who doubted the general resurrection of the saints. Here, he shows that because Jesus is risen from the dead, it serves as proof that all will be risen from the dead. After all, death spread to all men through Adam. Likewise, “in Christ all shall be made alive.” Again, it is the issue of federal headship. Our federal head passes on what can be given to those who are under him and in him.
    1. It comes down to this: Who is your federal head? Are you still in Adam, or are you in Christ? That Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that “all shall be made alive” does not guarantee that all people will be saved. It just means that all will be raised. Only those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus in faith as our God and Head are those who know we are saved. 
  3. To emphasize the point, every single man and woman will be raised from the dead. Again, Jesus spoke clearly about two resurrections: the resurrection of life and of condemnation (Jn 5:29). The book of Revelation shows the same thing. There is the first resurrection (which lasts a long period of time, beginning with Jesus’ own resurrection, the resurrection/rapture of the church, and the resurrection of the tribulation saints), and then the second resurrection of the unjust, taking place after the 1000 years of the Millennial Kingdom concluding with the Great White Throne judgment. 

24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

  1. What Paul summarizes in a few verses is described in detail by John in Revelation 20. At Jesus’ return, Satan is cast into the bottomless pit and chained for a thousand years, preventing him from deceiving the nations. Jesus will rule the world in righteousness and all the promises regarding the future kingdom seen in all the psalms and prophets will come to fruition. It will be a glorious time during which wolves will lay down with lambs and the nations will flow to Jerusalem to give glory to Jesus. Yet at the end of the thousand years, Satan is released from his bonds and he deceives the nations one final time to rise in rebellion against God. Fire comes from heaven to destroy the enemy armies, over which Jesus has complete victory and Satan is himself cast into the lake of fire to be tormented forever. After that comes the resurrection of the unjust and the final judgment at the Great White Throne when anyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life is cast into the lake of fire, along with Death and Hades itself. Truly, “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” Between the literal destruction of death and the resurrection to life for all who believe in Jesus, it is no wonder Paul can declare at the end of Chapter 15: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (15:55) Jesus conquers all!

27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

  1. The quotation is from Psalm 8:6, which at first glance might seem out of context. Psalm 8:4–8, “(4) What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? (5) For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. (6) You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, (7) All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, (8) The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.” After writing of the glories of God and how God created the infinite universe, David wondered why God would pay any attention to human men at all. Men and women are a little lower in the order of creation than the angels, even as we (through Adam) have been given dominion over the animal kingdom. – How does Paul relate that to Christ? Through the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul saw (like the writer of Hebrews) that Jesus in His incarnation was made a little lower than the angels when He was made a man (Heb 2:7-9), so if this humility applies to Christ, so does this exaltation. Although the immediate picture of the psalm speaks of mankind, the prophetic picture is that of Jesus, who truly has been given dominion over all things. In fact, Jesus affirmed this Himself just before He ascended to the Father: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” (Mt 28:18). Jesus has all authority today in name and by right; He will exercise it in fulfillment during the Millennial Kingdom.
  2. As for Paul’s point in quoting the psalm, he simply affirms Jesus’ ultimate authority and exaltation. Jesus is not one who has been put under anything or anyone; He is the one under Whom all things have been put. The only Being in all the universe to whom Jesus subjects Himself to is God the Father, and that through His gracious humility. Jesus is Himself the Almighty God, but willingly submits Himself to the righteous order being under the headship of the Father (11:3).

Don’t lose sight of the overall theme. Paul was asking how any Christian could reject the doctrine of resurrection. Without God raising the dead, Jesus wouldn’t be raised from the dead and our faith would be in vain. (The question of “what if.”) Similarly, the removal of the resurrection dramatically impacts the overall redemptive plan of God. Jesus’ resurrection proves our own future resurrection, which is directly tied into Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom and His ultimate victory over death. It is because Jesus is risen from the dead that we have hope in the future victory of Christ!

Question: Does someone have to understand all this deep theology regarding the end-times to be saved? No. Salvation is a matter of faith in Christ, according to the gospel. To the Romans, Paul put it as simply as it comes: Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”That is what is required for salvation; not a certain eschatological viewpoint. But the more we understand about the future plan of God, the more we will hold to the basic truths of Jesus. The more we know about what Jesus will do, the tighter we will hold to Him right now. 

  • What now? (29-34) What the resurrection means for current ministry and action.

29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?

  1. What exactly does Paul mean by the baptism of the dead? No one knows. Some have counted over 200 various interpretations of this verse, with certain theories being better than others. One idea is that Christians underwent baptism for some believers who died before they had the chance to be baptized themselves. Another is that it is a reference to a pagan practice, which would itself be illogical if there was no real resurrection of the dead. Another idea is that Paul refers to death symbolically, as baptism signifies our death to sin & to our old self, while we rise out of the water to new life in Jesus’ resurrection. Theories abound, with no common consensus.
  2. One thing we can say from this passage is that there is no commendation from Paul regarding the practice. Paul does not even include himself in the number that participates. (“What will they do… Why then are they baptized…”) Although certain cultic groups like the Mormons use this verse as justification for the baptism of the dead, it is a misuse of the verse and a violation of the principle of not allowing any Scripture to be of any private interpretation (2 Pt 1:20). We may not know what this verse says exactly, but we do know Paul did not recommend it.

30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

  1. Paul alluded to this earlier in verse 19, regarding how Christians without a resurrected Christ are pathetic and to be pitied. He fleshes it out a bit more. Why would he (or anyone else) endure constant persecution? Paul was under no illusion of the cost of being a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ. He bore in his own body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal 6:17), referring to his many scars and physical infirmities. As he wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul had received whippings (“stripes”), beatings with rods, imprisonment, stoning, and more (2 Cor 11:23-25). He put himself in constant “jeopardy” for the sake of the gospel. Even in “Ephesus,” the city to which Paul went after his initial ministry in Corinth, he faced the “beasts” in the form of a city riot which erupted due to his preaching against idolatry (Acts 19). Paul could write back to Corinth that all of those things were pointless, if Jesus Christ was not truly risen from the dead.
  2. Without a real resurrection confirming a real Jesus as the Christ and a real gospel, all the suffering was pointless. Paul may as well have been a hedonist. The motto “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” makes a lot of sense for those who have no faith in Christ and do not fear any judgment from God. Why not live it up in the present day? Why not experience all the pleasures of the flesh, if there is no judgment to face, nor any hope for salvation? Without a real resurrected Jesus, neither Paul nor any other Christian has any reason to willingly endure persecution and suffering.
    1. Consider how many Christians suffer around the world today? And not only in the eastern hemisphere, but here also in the west. Gracelife Church near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada has not only had its pastor jailed for preaching the gospel, but the local police set up fencing around the church to prevent anyone from attending.[3] Why would they take those kinds of risks, if Jesus was not really risen from the dead? Why would going to church matter at all, if Jesus’ resurrection was not real? – But it IS real! And because Jesus is risen from the dead, all of the risk and potential suffering is worth it. Consider what Jesus endured for us? Surely we can endure for Him (and we can trust Him to equip us for it through the Holy Spirit).

33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

  1. A lack of belief in the resurrection meant that the Corinthians were being deceived by false teachers. They were hanging around the wrong people, which led to some very bad results. Paul quoted a Greek poet rather than an Old Testament Scripture, but the proverb is no less true. “Evil company corrupts good habits.” When we associate with sinful people, we adopt their sinful practices. When we sit under bad teachers, we believe bad doctrine. Just because a person is nice or charismatic or engaging when he/she teaches, it doesn’t mean that the person is a qualified Biblical teacher. We need to examine the person’s doctrine. Do the things they teach demonstrate a knowledge of God? Not everyone does. Interestingly, the phrase “some do not have the knowledge of God” might better be translated, “some have ignorance of God,” with the word “ignorance” being the same word from which we get our “agnostic.” Apparently, the Corinthians had allowed ignorant agnostic teachers to influence some of their number away from the Biblical doctrine of resurrection, something that was shameful.
  2. How careful we need to be to avoid doctrinal corruption! Especially on matters of first importance like the resurrection or the overall gospel. These are non-negotiables for Christians. We expect people of the world to cast doubt on issues like the physical resurrection, the deity of Christ, or the historicity of the Bible; it should be abhorrent when seen among people who claim to be of the church. Whenever you see a theological expert or pastor interviewed on the news or in a documentary, pay attention to his/her doctrine. The moment they violate essential issues of the faith is the moment you can know they have lost all credibility. In fact, the moment they cast doubt on any Biblical text is the moment you turn them off. It is far too common for professing believers to have their faith rocked by a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on their door, claiming that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. Or, for that matter, Mormons who claim that the Bible is not the complete, sufficient word of God. These are not secondary issues – these are not things over which we can find compromise. Beware of what kind of company you keep, that your good doctrine (which is the basis for all your actions) is not corrupted.

Doubt in the resurrection was not a mere academic debate. This wasn’t something like arguing over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. It wasn’t a minor issue over which theologians obsessed but didn’t matter to the bulk of the church. On the contrary – it was a primary issue that had major present-day ramifications for Paul and everyone in the Corinthian church. It affected whether Paul had a reason to endure the things he did – it was a sign of the kind of associations and influences that the Corinthians were allowing into their church. To waver on fundamental doctrine was to get a look at the health of the church…and it wasn’t good.

Doctrine does matter. There are many issues within Biblical Christianity over which we can disagree, even when we have good Scriptural arguments. What kind of government should a local church have? How might a church use spiritual gifts, or should a church look for them at all? What is the timing of the rapture within the overall plan of God? These are all important issues, but they are secondary ones. Other things are not. Who Jesus is, is a doctrine that matters. What Jesus does, is a doctrine that matters. How Jesus saves, is a doctrine that matters. These are things that, if we veer from the truth, leads to sinful corruption, perhaps even becoming stumbling blocks from other people getting saved. These are things we need to guard, and the truth of which, to which we should cling.

Conclusion:

Paul answered a lot of questions! Sure, he asked most of them himself (being that he wrote the letter!), but these were the questions that were on the minds of many in Corinth. Some within the church had descended into skepticism, doubting even the primary doctrine of resurrection. Paul answered “what if,” showing that no resurrection meant no resurrected Jesus, and thus, no faith. He answered “what then,” showing the overall plan that God has for Jesus because of the resurrection. He answered “what now,” showing that this doctrinal discussion had a direct impact on their everyday lives.

The resurrection matters. Doctrine matters. The fundamentals of the gospel are not up for negotiation. They are not minor issues, debated only by people with academic degrees, having no bearing on the normal people in the pews. These issues go straight to the heart of our faith, determining if we have faith in the true God.

Some of you have dealt with ongoing doubt. Yes, you believe…or, at least you want to believe. Although there is much about Jesus that you might not understand, you do want to believe the truth. It’s just that some of it is so fantastic that you don’t know what to do with it. Guess what? You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Prior to the 1949 crusades in Los Angeles, Billy Graham struggled with doubts of his own. His best friend and ministry partner Charles Templeton had become an apostate, forsaking the Lord, choosing atheism (or agnosticism) instead. Billy’s mind struggled to wrap around the questions that Templeton were raising. One night, Billy held his Bible and fell to his knees, praying, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word!”[4] Maybe you need to draw your own line in the sand, making a similar declaration by faith.

It isn’t that there aren’t answers to the intellectual questions (there are!), but at some point we need to choose to believe. Especially when it comes to primary, fundamental, gospel issues. There are some debates we might never fully resolve (predestination vs. freewill, etc.) and that is okay. But we need solid faith on the issues that matter. On those things, we need to be firm. That is what will keep us holding fast to Jesus when attacks from the enemy come. And they will come. Skeptics will assail us – TV and movies will attempt to show how “intellectual” people reject the Bible – other wolves in sheep’s clothing will come looking like Christian believers while getting us to compromise on the gospel. How will we endure those things? When we hold fast to Jesus – when we hold fast to His truth.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1996. 56.

[2] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/warnock-deletes-easter-tweet-amid-backlash

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/gracelife-church-edmonton-covid-1.5977931

[4] https://billygraham.org/story/the-tree-stump-prayer-where-billy-graham-overcame-doubt/

In this Resurrection Sunday message, we continue with Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians as he reminds them of the gospel he had previously preached to them. The gospel is *central* to our faith. It is foundational, it is factual, and it is transformational. Hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ!

The Gospel

Posted: April 4, 2021 in 1 Corinthians
Tags: , ,

1 Corinthians 15:1-11, “The Gospel”

Happy Resurrection Sunday! Today is Easter, the day Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It is the day that marks Christianity apart from every religion in the world, the day without which we would not have Christianity. Although Christmas gets far more press and cultural attention (even having a full month+ designated for shopping and special music), Easter has far more importance. After all, Christmas is only special because Jesus rose from the dead. If He didn’t, no one would have cared how He was born. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pivotal event of history, and it is the event that we celebrate this day and every Sunday.

What’s the big deal? The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is what makes the gospel the gospel. Without Jesus rising from the dead, there is no good news to share about Him. Without Jesus’ resurrection, we have no proof of His victory over death, no declaration of His deity, no eyewitness apostles, no reason for Paul to traipse around the Roman empire, nothing. Without Jesus’ resurrection, we have no news to share, much less good news. At that point, all we have is the reality of our sins against a holy God with no way of resolving them. We are left with hopelessness and judgment. We are left with the futile religions of men, trying to prove ourselves righteous and always failing. Those who try to earn their way into heaven are like trucks stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels wildly, getting only dirtier and deeper into the muck. We need a rescue and a Rescuer, and without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have none.

But praise God, Jesus is risen from the dead! Jesus is alive today, just as He has been alive for the nearly 2000 years since He first came out of the Jerusalem tomb. And because He is, we have good news to share and to believe. Not just “kind of” good news; the best news of all: the news of God’s salvation!

This was the news that Paul shared with the Corinthian church at the beginning of Chapter 15. Paul had just concluded his discussion of spiritual gifts, which came as a part of his longer discussion of orderly worship within the local church. On a broader scale, this was part of a section in the letter where Paul was answering some specific questions from Corinth – subjects he addressed after dealing with several issues of discipline. Paul had covered a full array of topics with this local congregation ranging from internal division to marriages to prophecy, and everything in-between.

At this point in the letter, Paul started to bring things to a close, and as he did, he addressed one more major subject – something that had been on his mind since the letter’s beginning. Back in Chapter 1, Paul wrote how the message of the cross was foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1:18). Some of the Christians in Corinth had begun to stumble on some of the basics of the gospel itself – something foundational to our faith, without which we cannot be saved. Now, with the other issues out of the way, Paul turned to that which was most important: the wisdom of God seen in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It quickly becomes apparent that the primary stumbling black of some in Corinth was the physical literal resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the ramifications that it held for the resurrections of those who believe. But before Paul can look at the details of the resurrection, he first needed to establish its place within the gospel message. This is what he does at the beginning of Chapter 15 as he reminds the Christians in Corinth about the centrality of the gospel to the Christian faith.

What a marvelous text to examine on Resurrection Sunday! The events that took place that glorious Sunday morning make it possible for us to be saved. The things that took place that day ensure that there is a gospel to share, that there is good news to tell. We have that good news and it is glorious! It is foundational – it is factual – it is transformational. It is essential to everything we have in God and it is all about Jesus.

Praise God this Resurrection Sunday for the gospel of Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

  • The gospel is foundational (1-2).

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, …

  1. What was the first thing Paul wrote about the gospel? He had already preached it once to Corinth. He was about to preach it to them all over again. One of the oldest strategies in public speaking is this: “Tell them what you’re about to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” Paul was in the “tell them what you told them” phase. He had already given them the gospel, so what he was about to write to them should seem very familiar. Why? Because it wasn’t going to change. What Paul had originally declared, that was what he was going to write.
    1. Why? Because the gospel does not change! No matter who the audience is, no matter what the preferences of our culture may be, the message of Jesus does not change. Certain methods of sharing the news might, but the message (i.e., the content) does not. How so? Today, we have technology of which Paul could not have imagined. His method of worldwide publishing was to write a letter by hand, have a bunch of people copy it, and then send the copies around the Roman empire individually, hand-carrying it from church to church as people walked to different cities. Today, all we need to do is click a button on Facebook or Twitter, etc., and it goes to a worldwide audience immediately. Paul preached to many cities, but he could only preach to one city at a time. For us, anyone with a cell phone can instantly post a global livestream. The methods are incredibly advanced. Even the media can vary. In addition to the spoken and written word is video, infographics, picture books, etc. Even things like puzzles and Rubik-cube like toys have been used to share the gospel. The news of Jesus goes out in a myriad of ways undreamt of by Paul or any of the original apostles.
    2. But the content does not change. The content must not change. The gospel is what the gospel is, and we have neither the right nor the authority to alter it. Some want to water it down, hoping to find a way to make it more palatable to the world, or at least not as offensive as it might be perceived. That is not our job! It is not our authority. We are stewards of this news; not the originators or owners of it. We cannot change what God has set forth.
    3. Beloved, beware that you do not change the message! Likewise, beware of any pastor, teacher, or evangelist who does change the message! In his letter to the Galatians, Paul put a warning in the strongest of terms: Galatians 1:8–9, “(8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” How important is it to keep the message of the gospel unchanged? So much so, that even if Paul changed it, he was under the curse of God! Let us beware and be careful to leave the gospel intact, as given us in the Scripture.
  2. That is a lot of talking around the message of the gospel. What is the message itself? Paul will get to the details in a moment, but for now, let us look at the big picture. The words “gospel” and “preached” come from the same root word in Greek. The noun is euangelion (εὐαγγέλιον), in which you might hear the word “evangelism.” It is a compound word (or, at least a strengthened form of one word) placing a word for “good” in front of another word for “news / declaration.” In fact, that word is the same root from which we get our word “angel,” as an angel is nothing more than an heavenly being with a message from God. The angel brings divine news. So the eu-angel (~evangel) is the good declaration, the good news of God concerning Jesus Christ.
    1. Why does this matter? Because we tend to use the word “gospel” as an adjective for all sorts of things. There is gospel music, gospel literature, gospel action, gospel fill-in-the-blank, as if it is just another word in a Christian version of “Mad Libs.” And that is just the church; our culture uses the word in a different way, often as a synonym for “truth,” as if we might read a book that purports to be the gospel about politics, or sports, or other such things. This needs to stop. We need to understand this single point: the true gospel speaks only of Jesus Christ! If we are not referring to Jesus, we are not referring to the gospel at all. May we not allow this glorious word to be so easily diluted in our speech! Jesus is the gospel, the good news of God. Anything less is not the gospel at all.

…which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, …

  1. The Corinthians received the news of Jesus. They did not reject it, but believed it as Paul declared it. Likewise, they stood in the news of Jesus, having planted their feet in the truth that was preached, not moving from that spot of faith. And because of that, they were currently being saved through/via that same news of Jesus. The ESV brings out the present tense grammar in verse 2 as Paul wrote, “by which you are being saved.” More than a one-time act of forgiveness, the effect of the gospel of Jesus upon the Corinthian Christians was present and ongoing.
  2. The Bible speaks of salvation in three tenses: past, present, future. (1) We are saved from our sins of the past by being justified by Jesus. His death on the cross serves as the punishment for our sins and when we place our faith in Him, He justifies us, wiping out our debt against God. (2) We are presently being saved from our sinful nature in the process of sanctification. In this, Jesus frees us from the power that our sinful nature has on us, that we need not give in to the slavery of temptation. (3) We will be saved in the future in the day we are removed from the presence of sin through the act of glorification. One day, our bodies will be resurrected along with Jesus (which Paul addresses later in the chapter), and in that day we will live in Jesus’ kingdom altogether free from our sinful condition.
  3. Paul’s point for Corinth was that they already experienced the first two tenses. Because they received the gospel and stood in it, they were justified by Christ. They were truly forgiven of their sins and made new creations by the grace of God. And because of their ongoing faith, they were currently being saved, being continually sanctified by the grace of God as they were made more and more into the likeness of Christ. God had done a mighty work among them, in which they could rejoice!

Yet there was one disclaimer…

…if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

  1. The “if” stands out to us in a major way. All of what Paul wrote was true for Corinth, if they held fast to that gospel. It needs to be pointed out that the grammar used by Paul indicates that this was not a strong fear of his for the church. He was certain that this was indeed the belief for the Corinthians. Even so, their one guarantee of their salvation was to “hold fast” to the gospel preached to them, not being those who “believed in vain.” Make no mistake: there are some who believe in vain. There are some people who walk through the doors of a church, who know all the right words, and who can even recite some basic Biblical doctrine about Jesus (particularly on an Easter Sunday morning) yet who do not hold fast to the message. They do not themselves believe. For them, the words they know are empty words – the faith they pretend is a façade. There is a theological term for this person: a false convert. Maybe he raised his hand during a preacher’s invitation wanting to go to heaven, but he did not surrender himself to Jesus as his Lord. Maybe she was told she could fill the spiritual void in her heart, but she did not turn from her sins to follow Jesus, never truly believing upon Christ for who He is. Whatever their faith was in, it was not in the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for their sins and risen from the dead. They may have believed in something, but they did not believe the true gospel. All their other belief was in vain.
    1. Don’t let that be you! Especially on Easter, on Resurrection Sunday, take the time to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Take a hard look at your beliefs and determine if you hold fast to the gospel, the good news about Jesus. Only those who do have any assurance of their salvation. If your hope in heaven in based on anything other than Jesus, then you have no hope of heaven. At that point, you are not being saved. But you can Hold fast to the gospel of Christ!

You can’t get much more important than this! The gospel is foundational to our eternal salvation. It is the access we have to the promises of God. It is the assurance of our deliverance from sin and future in presence of God. It is essential to believe and to keep.

  • The gospel is factual (3-8).

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: …

  1. In verse 1, Paul already wrote how he preached the gospel to the church at Corinth, as this was the message he was going to deliver to them all over again. Guess what? It was a message that was delivered to Paul himself. Paul did not invent the message; he (like every other gospel preacher) was a messenger. It had been given to him; he passed it along to others.
  2. That Paul “received” this message confirms that it existed long before the writing of 1 Corinthians. Paul likely learned this formulation from the initial Christians he met in Damascus following his own conversion, some 20 years earlier. Considering that Paul wrote this letter around 54-55AD, having first ministered in the city around 51AD, we can place his conversion somewhere around 36AD. This means that a fully formed Christian creed (confession of faith) existed outside of Jerusalem within 3-5 years of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. – For all the skeptics who claim that the story of Jesus’ resurrection was a myth that developed over time, the historical facts simply do not allow that as a possibility. It takes years and even decades for myths to develop. In this case, doctrine was being formulated and taught within only a couple of years from the event itself. Presidential terms last for a longer period of time than what it took for the gospel to be systematically taught to new believers! – It underscores the idea that the gospel is historical fact. This good news of God is not “too good to be true;” it is good because it is true.

…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

  1. Christ.” Note that Paul gives a title rather than a name. Not that anything is wrong with the name of Jesus. Far from it! The name “Jesus” encapsulates the gospel itself, meaning “YHWH is salvation,” or, the shortened form of “Yah saves.” This is the name specifically chosen by God during Mary’s pregnancy for His only begotten Son. It is the name that is above every other name. It is wonderful! But for Paul’s purposes here, it was also wonderfully common. “Jesus” is the anglicized Greek equivalent of “Joshua,” a name extremely common among the first century Jews. Imagine if Paul wrote that “Josh died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” While theologically correct, his readers might have asked, “Which one?” They may have known a dozen men named Joshua/Jesus, and they needed some distinction. Paul could have done this legitimately by writing “Jesus of Nazareth,” which was the name that Peter used in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22), but Paul didn’t. He wrote “Christ.” Why? Because this specific title has a specific meaning. The Christ is the Messiah, the Man anointed by God to be King of Israel and the Savior of the world. The Christ/Messiah is the Man to whom Scripture points as the fulfillment of the promises of God, stretching all the way back to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. This is a Person of great importance – this is the Man upon whom rests the fate of the universe – this is the Man at the center of the good news of God. The gospel is about Christ.
    1. Don’t gloss over that! The gospel is not about life-fulfillment, good feelings, material riches, or anything that this world offers. The gospel is not even ultimately about eternal life in heaven. That is a benefit of the gospel, but it is not the gospel itself. The gospel is about Christ. It is about the Lord Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah. It is about who He is and what He has done. The good news of God all about Him; not us.
    2. This gets us back to the warning against changing the gospel. If we make it all about us and what we can get out of God, we are no longer preaching/believing the gospel. If the preaching is all about seeing what we can gain (be it prosperity, physical healing, supernatural power, etc.), it is not gospel preaching because true gospel preaching is going to be about Jesus as the Christ. We dare not dilute nor diverge from that message. It is far too important!
  2. Christ “died.” Again, remember whom it is of which we speak. Christ the King, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the God-Man Himself died. The One who existed before time began, the 2nd Person of the Trinity who had no beginning, the One through whom God created the world – this Man died. That alone is a mind-blowing thought. How is it possible that the Christ could die? Without question, this was unthinkable in the minds of the 1st century Jews. They anticipated Messiah’s arrival, looking forward to a great military victory He would bring over the Romans and restore Israel to its kingdom and prominence. Certainly, this was on the minds of the original disciples, which was why they scattered so quickly when Jesus was arrested. It was why they hid themselves behind locked doors when Jesus died on the cross. Their hopes for Messianic reign had been dashed, so they thought. The Man whom they trusted was gone. He had been bruised, beaten, and nailed to the cross, and it was upon the cross that He died. The weight of this was crushing to them. Looking back 2000 years later, we might chastise them saying, “But Jesus warned them. They should have listened!” Yes, they should have…but they were humans just like us. They did not want to believe that Jesus could suffer and die on the cross, but He did, and they were devastated.
  3. But there was a reason for Jesus’ death, one which we dare not forget. This too is part of the gospel. Specifically, “Christ died for our sins.” This is what we remember on Good Friday, though we dare not limit it only to then. Jesus died as a sacrifice, as a substitution. And this is why it had to be Christ, and not just anyone. Because it was Jesus, because it was the Son of God incarnate as the Christ, the death that Jesus died served as a sufficient substitute for sinful people like you and me. Because we live in 21st century western culture (and a primarily Gentile one at that), we have a difficult time understanding the need for sacrifice. To us, “sacrifice” is something that we give to another. It might even be valuable, like the sacrifice of time or money. It might even be the sacrifice of the life of a soldier for the country which he loves. But it is a one-sided sacrifice – something without a correlating response. To the ancient Hebrews following the law of Moses, “sacrifice” was something far different. That kind of sacrifice required blood – it required the life of an animal that served as a judicial substitute for one’s own sins. You had sinned against God, and the wages of your sin was death. But you couldn’t personally pay that price, for obvious reasons. So, you put an animal in your place, and the death that you should have received was administered to that animal, and you knew the blood that came pouring out from its neck should have been yours. Of course, there was a problem: you kept sinning and you had to keep giving animal sacrifices. Moreover, the value of an animal never equals the value of a person. Thus, the sacrifice was always insufficient. – This is where the death of Christ comes in. His sacrifice is His death was given in place of your death. The punishment He received should have been your punishment. The blood that poured out His body should have been yours, but it was His – and because it was His, it serves not only as a sufficient payment for your sins, but an overwhelming payment. As the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all.”
  4. Christ was “buried.” This too, is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it is a reminder that Jesus was really dead. It is a reminder that even His initial disciples believed it was over. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if all their hopes had died with Him. As the two men walking on the road to Emmaus on Sunday morning said to Jesus (before knowing it was Him), “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel,” (Lk 24:21). They hoped He was the Messiah, but in their minds, how could He be if He was dead? They needed a living Christ for the promises of God to be true. With Jesus dead, those hopes had died. Thus, they buried Him. Joseph of Arimathea gave his own unused tomb for the body of Jesus, and he and Nicodemus the Pharisee packed Jesus’ body with 100 pounds of spices, wrapped it according to Jewish custom, and rolled a massive stone in front of the door. They would have done none of it if they expected Jesus to rise. Moreover, there was no chance they would have done it if they had any suspicion that Jesus might still somehow be alive! Of course, the Roman centurion had already verified the death of Jesus by piercing Jesus’ side with his spear, but if neither the cross nor the spear had killed Jesus, surely the smothering of the all the spices and wrapping would have finished off the job! The point? Jesus was truly dead. The price was truly paid. Without the real and verified death of Jesus, we have no payment for our sins. But it was real, it was verified…to the point of His literal burial in a literal tomb.
  5. Christ “rose again.” This is where the good news becomes good! This is why the gospel is the gospel! On the third day after Jesus gave His life on the cross for our sins, Jesus rose again to new and glorious life. We remember the Biblical account, how the women who believed in Jesus still wanted to somehow attend to His body in devotion, even though they did not have the opportunity on the day He died. The sun had set and the Sabbath had begun, so the women had no choice but to wait until Sunday morning. They started out at their earliest opportunity, right as light was beginning to break, going to the tomb with their spices and material. How they were supposed to move the stone was a part of the puzzle they hadn’t yet figured out, but all they knew is that they needed to get to Jesus’ grave. As it turns out, the stone wasn’t a problem at all! An angel appeared, rolling back the stone, revealing that the tomb was already empty (Mt 28:2). Jesus had already departed the tomb, having been risen from the dead, an event unheard of in all history. Several people had been raised from the dead in the past (some by the hand of Jesus Himself), but none had ever risen from the dead by their own power. Jesus did. Just as Jesus willingly gave up His life, committing His spirit into the hands of God the Father, so did Jesus take up His life again on the third day!
    1. What does it show? Everything! It shows that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom 1:4). It shows that Jesus truly is Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). It shows that Jesus is the One who will one day judge the world (Acts 17:30). Moreover, it shows that the price for sin has been paid that that we have the promise of new life in His name! The resurrection of Jesus is the Easter story and it is the reason that the gospel of Christ is good news.
    2. Is this the news you believe? This is the news by which we can be saved, but we will never be saved if we do not believe it. Think of it: Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave nearly 2000 years ago in the past. His sacrifice has already been completed in full. The work has been done, but not everyone is saved. Why hasn’t everyone in the past 2000 years automatically been given the promise and assurance of heaven? Because not everyone believes. Jesus’ work has been done but it is only effectual for those who have faith. The apostle John put it this way: 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” You need to believe!
  6. Note: all of it was “according to the Scriptures.” Nothing that happened to Jesus was according to random chance; it was all according to the Scriptures. It was all according to the revealed plan of God. Which Scriptures? Paul does not list them here. And for good reason…there are far too many! There are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of the earthly ministry of Jesus, ranging from His family line to the city of His birth to the events surrounding His death, and more. As to the specific Scriptures that speak of His death, burial, and resurrection, one need look no further than Isaiah 53. The entire chapter speaks of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus, but is also specific on these lines: Isaiah 53:9–10, “(9) And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. (10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” Jesus died, having been crucified next to two robbers (most likely terrorists). Jesus was buried, placed by the rich Joseph of Arimathea in his own tomb. Jesus rose again, having seen His “offspring” of the church and having His days prolonged. This was the plan of God regarding His Son and it came true to the letter!

This is the message regarding Jesus, the good news of the gospel. And it is good! But is it true? The best story in the world does nothing for us if it is just a fairy tale. How can we know that Jesus actually rose from the dead? That is what Paul goes on to describe. We can know this is true because Jesus was seen. His physical person was witnessed not just by one, but by many people.

5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

  1. That “Cephas” (Peter) is mentioned first among the apostles is not just a matter of historical record; it is a demonstration of great grace. We need to acknowledge that Peter was not the first person to see the risen Lord Jesus; that privilege was given to Mary Magdalene and the other women who steadfastly followed Him and believed in Him. But Paul isn’t writing here of every witness; he names the ones that the Christians in Corinth would have known. Considering they had a personal experience at some point with Peter/Cephas, it is only fitting that Paul begins the list of eyewitnesses with him. The issue of grace is important due to Peter’s last interaction with Jesus prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. After boasting how he would never leave Jesus, how all the other disciples might abandon Him but that Peter himself would never deny Him, Peter had a massive failure. The “mighty” Peter, the de facto leader of the apostles did deny Jesus in a major way. He crumbled at the questions of a little girl, along with others at a campfire within eyeshot of Jesus. Like so many of us, Peter temporarily turned his back on the Man he claimed as his Lord. Peter failed.
    1. The good news for Peter? His failure was not final! Jesus died for the sins of Peter, just like Jesus died for your sins and mine. When Jesus rose from the grave, He made special effort to ensure that Peter knew that Jesus was risen. Peter saw Jesus, and later even had a special meeting with the Lord restoring him to full ministry. Peter found forgiveness in the risen Lord Jesus, just like anyone can.
  2. It wasn’t only Peter who saw Jesus, it was all “the twelve.” Interestingly, the official “twelve” had dwindled to eleven after the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. That said, there were other men present, as acknowledged by Peter when Matthias was officially added to the number prior to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:26). But just as there was grace shown to Peter in Jesus’ resurrection, so was grace shown to all the apostles. Remember that although Peter denied Jesus in a particular way, all the apostles abandoned Jesus. Aside from a brief time when John came to stand at the foot of the cross, all the men who faithfully followed Jesus for three years were scattered like scared sheep. Even after Jesus’ death, they still feared for their lives, hiding behind locked doors. Yet locked doors are no problem for the risen Christ! Jesus appeared in their midst, showing them the wounds in His hands and side. And He did it not just once, but twice. Thomas was not initially with the disciples when Jesus first appeared and despite the glorious news told to him, he stubbornly refused to believe for a full week. Only then did Jesus once more appear specifically for Thomas, to which Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).
    1. Isn’t it good to know that the original apostles were not “perfect” Christians? They were men just like us. They had failings like every man and woman today. And Jesus gave them grace in His resurrection…just like Jesus offers us grace in His resurrection. This is the good news! How we need to believe!

6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

  1. When did this meeting with “five hundred brethren” take place? Scripture does not directly tell us. Many scholars believe it to be the gathering in Galilee when Jesus gave the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). Paul was less interested in giving the details of the meeting than he was giving the Corinthians other references and eyewitness testimonies. He was basically telling them, “You don’t have to take my word for it, or even Peter’s word. Go ask folks from the crowd of 500. Most of them are still alive today. Go check it out for yourselves.” According to Hebrew law, it only took the agreement of 2-3 witnesses for a matter to be established as judicial fact. A man could even be put to death on the testimony of 2-3 witnesses (Dt 17:6). How many witnesses did Paul name thus far? 512 and counting! The amount of eyewitness testimony was overwhelming.
  2. Objection: “But it’s just eyewitness testimony. That doesn’t prove anything.” On the contrary, yes it does. There are two ways of establishing fact: scientific testing by which phenomenon can be reproduced, or judicial/historical testimony as in a court of law. Historical events, by definition, happened in the past and cannot be reproduced scientifically. There is no experiment one can set up to “prove” that Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. What we can do is look at the historical documents and the testimonies of the people who lived at the time. The same thing happens in criminal courts every day all over our nation. Evidence is presented to a judge, sometimes the only evidence being eyewitness testimony. The testimony of one person may not be afforded much credibility, but the more people who corroborate a story, the more likely it is true. — How much eyewitness testimony is available regarding the risen Jesus? An astounding amount! Literally hundreds of people saw Him alive, and at the time Paul wrote this letter, those testimonies could be verified.

7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

  1. The fact that “James” is mentioned is incredibly important. This is not either of the two apostles named James during Jesus’ earthly ministry; this was the James who was the half-brother of Jesus, who ended up being a prominent leader in the church at Jerusalem. If there were anyone prone to be a skeptic of Jesus’ claims of deity as the Messiah, His siblings topped the list. Sure, they would have heard from Joseph and Mary that Joseph was not Jesus’ father, but it’s doubtful they would have believed too many of the stories. They certainly did not believe in Him during Jesus’ earthly ministry (Jn 7:5). Why would they? They were his brothers. They grew up next to Him, they played games with Him, they maybe even attempted to play pranks on Him. They would not have given Jesus more authority than absolutely necessary. No brother does. Yet something Something massive changed James’ mind to where he was convinced that his own half-brother was God and that James owed Jesus his worship. What could it be, other than the resurrection? Jesus “was seen by James” and it changed his life.
  2. Who were the other “apostles” mentioned here? We cannot say exactly. The official twelve were already mentioned by Paul. This second grouping surely included the twelve as well as other men like James and Jude (as the half-brothers of Jesus), Justus (as the other potential choice from Matthias), and perhaps some other men who had been with Jesus in His earthly ministry, thought not named with the twelve. The overall point is clear: the risen Jesus was seen by all kinds of people, and even the people who were most skeptical towards Him during His ministry believed. They were converted, being absolutely convinced that Jesus is the risen Messiah.

8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

  1. Finally, there was Paul. Paul’s own conversion is recorded three times in the book of Acts, as his personal testimony was something he often shared. And for good reason: it was powerful! (Something which he details in the next several verses.) But the point here was that Paul was apparently the final eyewitness of the risen Jesus. Paul was not part of the original group of disciples, nor was he included in the group of men and women who came to faith in Jesus in the earliest days of the church. On the contrary, as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was steadfastly against Jesus…yet Jesus still appeared to him. And like a baby being born unexpectedly, so was Paul reborn as an apostle of Jesus Christ, an eyewitness to the risen Lord. He could add his own voice to the chorus of testimonies surrounding Jesus.

Question: What about today? We are nearly 2000 years removed from Jesus’ resurrection. Any eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb is long-dead and buried. Sure, there are occasional stories of visions, of varying credibility. Some stories are plainly lies; others are perhaps grounded in truth. But as for anyone laying eyes on the physical resurrected person of Jesus of Nazareth? Those days are over. 

Yet it does not stop us from testifying of the risen Jesus. (1) We still have the eyewitness testimonies in the pages of the New Testament. The four gospel accounts are based on the testimonies of the men and women who were there. Paul’s own letters speak of his experience, as well as the book of Acts. The other epistles testify of the authors’ experiences with the risen Jesus. We may not have access to the 500 men and women mentioned by Paul to Corinth, but we do have the eyewitness testimonies of the apostles! (2) We have our own personal testimonies of Jesus Christ. No, we have not seen the risen person of Jesus, but we have experienced Him through faith. Every single born-again Christian has a real relationship with the real, resurrected Jesus Christ. It cannot be otherwise, if you are saved. If you do not believe in the risen Jesus, you are not born-again, period. That means we pray to the living God. That means we interact with the living God. It means we have been saved by the living God, known in the person of the risen Jesus. You can testify to someone else of Jesus because you know that Jesus is risen from the dead! (And if you don’t, you can know Him today!)

Jesus’ resurrection is a fact! This is not some myth based on the imaginations of deluded men. This is not invented dogma by a cultic group. This is historical, factual truth.

  • The gospel is transformational (9-11).

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

  1. Here is where Paul writes of the effect of Jesus’ resurrection on his own life. Yes, he was the last to be called by Jesus as an apostle and eyewitness, but it was a privilege to be called! Paul was “not worthy to be called,” but he was. Paul “persecuted the church of God,” but he was given grace. How much grace? An abundance! Three times in one verse, Paul writes of the grace of God that he received. Grace made Paul who he was as an apostles – the grace of God was effectual in Paul’s life, not being in vain – the grace of God enabled him to engage in ministry. Everything that the Corinthians knew of Paul was all due to the grace of God. Grace transformed Paul totally. It changed him from a persecutor to one who was often persecuted. It changed him from one who hunted the church to one who planted the church. The grace of God changed everything!
  2. How did this grace come? Through the gospel! How might we be transformed? Through the gospel! When we respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, we are showered with the grace of God. His grace forgives us of every sin, cleansing us from our past, making us who we now are as new creations. His grace enables us to live for His glory, empowering us by the Holy Spirit to do things we never thought possible. Who were we, other than wretched sinners? Who was I, other than a wretched sinner? And apart from the grace of Jesus, that is what I still am! But in Christ? I am saved! Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, I am what I am, sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit that I might live to the glory of God. That is my testimony and it is the testimony of all who believe! 

11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

  1. Paul brings it back to where he began. He gave this church the gospel and he could testify of the risen Jesus and the grace that Jesus provides. Even if Corinth heard it from someone else, it didn’t change the message. Jesus changes lives and eternal destinies because Christ died, was buried, and rose again, according to the Scriptures. It happened with Paul, and it happened with Corinth.

It can happen with anyone. Why? Because the gospel is transformational.

Conclusion:

What better news to share on Resurrection Sunday than the good news? This is the central message of the Christian faith and it is all about Jesus. It is foundational – it is factual – it is transformational. It is what we celebrate not just one day per year, nor one day per week; it is to be celebrated every day of our lives! Because Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the grave, we are saved. That is something that ought to come out in our prayer and devotions every morning or evening, or whenever you spend time with the Lord. This is the news that ought to be on the tips of our tongues, ready to share with whomever the Lord puts in front of us. If this is the news that changed Paul – if this is the news that changed you – then this is the news that can change anyone.

Christian: hold fast to what you have heard! Do not underestimate the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let it be that to which you cling every morning and every evening. This is what we need to preach to ourselves, all day every day. Why? Because we sin all day every day! How many times do you and I fail even before breakfast in the morning, much less through the rest of the day? Our thoughts turn to selfishness, or we get upset at the news headlines, or we get irritated at traffic, or at the dog, or at a half-dozen other things before we even get to the office (or wherever). It is in those times we need to remember Christ came, Christ died for our sins, Christ was buried, and Christ rose again. Jesus did all of that according to the plan of God, that God would be glorified and that we might be bathed in His grace. It is in the truth of that message, by the work of that Person, that we are saved and assured. Hold fast! Hold to it like a life-preserver in the middle of an ocean, like the parachute to which you cling as you jump from the plane. However you do it, just do it! Hold fast to the gospel, clinging tightly to the risen Jesus. He is our only hope.

Some of you do not yet know that hope. You can. You should. Maybe you have been a false convert, showing up in church but believing in vain. Or maybe you know that you haven’t believed, thinking that it did not affect you. I implore you: cast yourself upon the mercies of Jesus today! You have heard the good news. Jesus is the Christ of God, crucified for your sins and risen from the dead. This is a historical fact and your lack of faith does not change that. One day you will stand before Jesus in all of His glory, and you will be judged for your life based on how you responded to the gospel. Once you’ve heard the truth you cannot “unhear” it. Today you know and you must respond. Respond in humility and faith! Respond with repentance and trust. Turn away from your sins and trust Christ today.

As they were blessed with an abundance of spiritual gifts, the Corinthians were still to avoid confusion, avoid interruption, and avoid anarchy. How could they do it? By using their God-given gifts decently and in order.

The Gift of Order

Posted: March 28, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 14:26-40, “The Gift of Order”

Many of us have seen courtroom movies or TV shows that have a judge banging a gavel on his desk, shouting, “Order in the courts!” Usually something was said from the witness stand that caused a stir in the room and the people in the galley were talking over each other. Things became disorderly and needed to be brought back into line. The court case could not proceed unless it could proceed in an orderly fashion.

A similar thing might be said for the church. Order in the church, particularly in a corporate worship service is a good thing. In a discussion of spiritual gifts, order itself might even be viewed as a kind of gift. It is the context that allows the expression of the other things God the Spirit has given, so that God the Father might be glorified among the people redeemed by God the Son.

Yet, like everything else that surrounds the spiritual gifts, order itself can be somewhat controversial. On the one hand, there are some who believe that unless it can be planned and scripted by men, then it has no place within the worship of God. On the other extreme, there are some who believe that any discussion of mandating some amount of discipline and order in worship is akin to blasphemy against God, that the Spirit moves where He wishes, and it is sinful for God’s people to somehow stand in the way.

Both extremes are wrong, and neither abides by the clear teaching of the Bible. This is precisely what Paul has addresses in this passage as he brings his teaching on the gifts to a conclusion. The gifts are to be used, but they are to be used in the way prescribed by God for the glory of God. That means they are to be used decently and in order.

Since Chapter 11, Paul has been writing in one way or the other about orderly worship. First, there was the issue of gender roles within the Christian home and congregation, with all Christians needing to remember that we are under the headship of Christ. We are all under His authority and His church is to function in the roles He has given it. Second, there was the issue of the Lord’s Supper which had devolved into something chaotic among the Corinthians. They had lost sight of the ordinance of communion being a solemn and worshipful remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for the church and the price He paid for our redemption. The church practices communion rightly when we partake in remembrance of Jesus with Him receiving the glory.

Thirdly, was the subject of spiritual gifts, a topic upon which Paul has spent the last three chapters. As it is today, the use of spiritual gifts became something highly controversial among the Corinthians church. The Christians in Corinth were blessed with many gifts, but they did not use them rightly. It became a source of jealousy and division. There was little spiritual maturity that accompanied their spiritual giftedness; instead, they demonstrated more of the carnal immaturity that was addressed in the earlier parts of the letter. After establishing that the gifts are good when they are given by God the Spirit, Paul took some time to emphasize that love is more important than all the gifts. Without Christ-centered love, it didn’t matter what the Corinthians believed they did in the Spirit; they had nothing. 

Even so, Paul still needed to deal with the controversial stuff, so he brought clarity to the two most abused of the gifts: tongues and prophecy. Both are good; prophecy is better. Tongues is great in private personal worship, as well as being a potential sign of judgment to unbelievers. Prophecy, on the other hand, helps the whole church bringing edification, exhortation, and comfort to believers. Tongues can be great when interpreted, but without it, it should not be practiced publicly. Prophecy is great at all times and can bring people to faith in Christ.

Where does Paul go from there? Back to the overarching theme of order. As Paul closes out this section, he gives some very clear instruction to maintain orderly worship in the local church. The Corinthians were to avoid confusion, avoid interruption, and avoid anarchy. How could they do it? By using the gifts rightly, for the edification of the church and the glory of God. Here, the call isn’t for “order in the courts,” but rather “order in the church.” When we have orderly worship, we glorify our orderly God.

1 Corinthians 14:26–40

  • Avoiding confusion: gifts in the church (26-33).

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

  1. Right from the beginning, we see a turn from Paul to a general conclusion. For all that he has written about how the gifts might be used wrongly (and how they apparently were used wrongly in Corinth), Paul gives instruction for how to use the gifts rightly. What should a worship service in ancient Corinth look like? Paul gives a brief outline. One person “has a psalm” or song; another brings a teaching; another shares a spiritual gift such as tongues, prophecy, or interpretation. Be careful not to get the wrong idea. Paul did not give a specific liturgy to be followed for each and every corporate worship service; he gave a suggestion of what one might look like. Especially in terms of spiritual gifts, these things cannot be planned out. There might be room allowed for the expression of certain gifts, but they cannot be forced at will. A person will only prophesy when God gives a prophecy; it cannot be invented on the spot. (If it is, it is not from the Lord!)
  2. Guideline #1: Each comes prepared to be used by God. Corporate worship is not a spectator sport. This is true regardless if you attend a service where certain spiritual gifts are expected, or not. Any time that born-again believers gather to worship God through Jesus Christ, we are to come personally prepared to worship. We come ready to receive and to give. Perhaps we give our heartfelt praise as we sing out in songs. Perhaps we give our attention as we listen to the word of God. Perhaps we give our time to others before or after the service, as we minister to one another as led by the Lord. Do we receive? Hopefully every time we walk into a church, we walk out joyful or convicted or exhorted or better equipped to serve Jesus. But we need to be careful about running in and out of church looking for only what we can receive. Not to point fingers, but it is easy to find ourselves coming in late to worship, not paying any attention to the lyrics being sung – to listen only to bits of the word of God that might make us feel good, tuning out the rest of the time – and then race out the door as soon as possible before we’ve interacted with anyone. Beloved, hear this gently yet clearly: God has more for you than that! Jesus has saved you, having redeemed you from your sin and cleansing you from all unrighteousness, and in so doing has made you a member of His body. He wants to use you in His body. He has a plan and a purpose for you in the local church. Are you available to be used? Do you come prepared to be used, or do you look for only what you can receive?
    1. Once more, it is a reminder of the importance of physical gathering. Not everyone can attend every week, and we need to be careful of imposing legalism on anyone. But those who can come, should. As valuable as technology is, it is no substitute for participation in a local congregation. And if all you can do is online, then be active! Beware of just watching a livestream and treating it like television where you tune in and tune out. Be intentional in your engagement. Sing aloud, pray, worship, take notes. Comment online, reach out to people through texts or email and pray for them. Scripture enjoins us to be active and to be ready to be used by God; we need to make ourselves available to Him.
  3. Guideline #2: Edification is the rule. Whatever it is that we do, in all the things that Paul lists out (both in this verse in all the previous context stretching back to Chapter 11 regarding the gifts, the Lord’s Supper, and more), “let all things be done for edification.” What is it that will best build up the church? Do that. Will a bunch of tongues all spoken at once build up the church? It will cause confusion and be reason for unbelievers who are present to accuse the church of madness (14:23). Besides, even among the Christians, no one will understand what was spoken without interpretation, so that none are edified apart from those who speak them. Thus, use the gifts and practice the things that lead to the edification of all. Will teaching the Bible build up the church? Yes, so do that. Will singing Biblical songs of praise build up the church? Yes, do that. Will teaching children on their own level build up the church? Of course, so it is good. Ushering serves the people gathered for worship, thus it edifies. Even serving coffee and donuts exercises the gift of hospitality and serves the church, so it edifies. If it builds the church, brings us closer to Jesus, is in-line with the Scripture, it is good. If not, leave it out.
    1. This one simple rule could save so many people so much trouble! It is sadly far too common to see men and women who have gathered for worship, yet no true worship is taking place. There is no focus on the glory of God; it is all about the personal glories experienced by individual men and women. The corporate church is not built or edified; the focus is all on “what I can get.” Remember a simple rule: It’s not about you! It’s not about me! It is about God and His glory – it is about what He desires to do with His church. So the things we do as a local church need to be for the edification / the building up of the church. If we miss this, we won’t get anything else.

27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

  1. Throughout this whole section of Scripture, Paul has been absolutely clear. Here, there ought to be no room for misunderstanding, as Paul could not have been more precise with the details. How is it that tongues are to be used in a church setting? Break it down:
  2. First, tongues are not required to be practiced. Notice how Paul begins with an “if.” “If anyone speaks in a tongue.” Just because born-again Christians have gathered together in a local assembly to worship God does not guarantee that a tongue will be spoken…not even in ancient Corinth. Remember that not all born-again Christians have the gift of tongues, nor should it even be a regular expectation of those filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts individually as He wills (12:11). For those who believe that the church hasn’t really worshipped until a tongue has been spoken, that is imposing a law where the Scripture does not. The “if” is a big “if.” We cannot force these things, nor should we attempt to do so.
  3. Second, tongues are to be limited and allowed only with interpretation. This is in direct contrast with the common practice seen in many church congregations where dozens of people supposedly speak in tongues all at the same time, without even an attempt at interpretation. It needs to be said (with as much love and grace as possible), such a practice is absolutely unbiblical. Even in a congregation that was blessed with as many spiritual gifts as was Corinth, Paul allowed 2-3 tongues at the most, and those not all at the same time. Moreover, an interpretation was required for each one. You could not have three people in a row speak a tongue one week and wait for an interpretation the following week. On the contrary, each tongue required its own interpretation at the time the tongue was given. And on top of that, there had to at least be the possibility for a proper interpretation if a tongue was allowed at all. If there was no opportunity to wait for an interpretation, or no one present who had ever exercised the gift of interpretation, then all tongues were disallowed.
  4. Third, in lieu of an interpreter, the tongue-speaker was to “keep silent.” That tells us something important: tongues are not forced by the Holy Spirit upon an individual. The person who speaks in a tongue is not somehow possessed, losing all capacity to control him/herself. The speaker can choose to be silent. (This fact alone might be one method by which a true tongue can be judged. If a person appears to lose self-control, that is not a sign of Holy Spirit empowerment.)
    1. Instead of sharing the tongue, what is the person to do? “Let him speak to himself and to God.” The person doesn’t have to shout it loud; it can be spoken under his/her breath. After all, it is spoken to God. This gives us one more reminder that tongues are praises and prayers to God; not proclamations to the church.

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

  1. Notice the parallel: Like tongues, prophecy is also limited. Even in a service dedicated to the expression of spiritual gifts, Paul does not allow a parade of prophecy. There is no doubt that prophecy is the better of the two gifts, as prophecy edifies the whole assembled congregation. Even so, it is possible to have too many prophets at one time for one service.
  2. How so? That leads to the other parallel: just like tongues require interpretation, prophecy requires evaluation. Prophecy is to be judged. Just because someone claims to have spoken a word from the Lord does not mean that it is from the Lord. People can say all kinds of things; it does not make them true. This is likely the reason for the limited number of prophets. It takes time to evaluate prophecy. Should the proper evaluation be given, it necessarily limits the number of prophets that can speak.
  3. Of course, that begs the questions: (1) How might prophecy be judged? (2) Who is to judge?
    1. On the first, the answer is simple: the Scripture. Anyone purporting to speak a word from God needs to have their prophecy judged by the word of God. God will never contradict Himself. The written Scripture is always our final and highest authority. No words ever spoken by men or women will counteract what is written in the Bible. Thus, any claim to prophecy must be tested by the Scripture. 
    2. On the second, the answer is a bit more debated. For some, the “others” refers to other known prophets in the church. For others, the “others” refers to other believers in the church, i.e., the rest of the congregation as represented by the elders. This seems to be the more likely explanation. After all, there might only be one person present who had been known to have the gift of prophecy in the past. If no one else in the church had experienced the gift, how would the prophecy be judged at all? Yet all born-again Christians who know the Bible can evaluate things by the Bible. Thus, prophecy is accountable to the entire church.

30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

  1. First, prophecy is to be orderly. At first glance, the instruction in verse 30 might seem to be backwards or even rude. Why should someone who interrupts a prophecy be given priority in speaking? Because if it is truly God-given prophecy, then the person interrupting is likely correcting the person who was interrupted. Just because a Christian is exercising the gift of prophecy does not mean that he/she is infallible. Quite the contrary! People trip over themselves all the time. Someone might initially be speaking a word from God and get caught up in his ego. That would be a perfect time for a bit of holy interruption. Whatever the reason, the overarching principle is orderliness. The first person isn’t to get upset and start speaking louder; he is to “keep silent.” If the church is truly trying to glorify God, then we shouldn’t get our feelings hurt if we don’t get to say what we want. After all, it isn’t about us; it is about the Lord.
  2. Second, prophecy is to be corporate. Notice how the prophecy takes place: “one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” Again, it is interesting to notice how different Paul’s instruction is from the way prophecy is often practiced in churches today. Sometimes people walk to the front of the sanctuary where men are prophesying over individuals. As much as we might understand the heart behind it, it simply does not fit the Biblical instruction. When prophecy is given in a worship service, it is given for the whole congregation. It is to happen singly (and only three at the max), it is to be judged in the presence of all, and it is given for all the gathered assembly. It is not a word for the ears of a single individual; it is given “that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
    1. On a personal note: I am under no illusion that this might offend some of us. Some of us have been in worship services where we believed many people spoke in tongues and many prophecies were given to all kinds of people. And we felt good about it, as if God the Spirit did something special that night. And without question, there are times that God works in spite of the people present. There have been men and women saved at signs and wonders events where the speakers were outright heretics. That doesn’t commend the speaker; it just speaks of the grace of God. What is it that the word of God says about these things? That is what we ought to strive to practice as a church. Will we do it perfectly? Have we always done it perfectly? Not likely…but we ought to seek to do so. By God’s grace, let us strive to model our worship and our lives according to the word of God as it is written, rather than the traditions we might have learned through others.

32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

  1. The bottom line is that these things can be controlled. Be it the speakers of tongues who have the ability to control their own mouths and choose either silence or personal prayers to God, or the prophets who have the ability to choose if/when to open their mouths, every Spirit-filled Christian still has the freewill to control themselves. God equips us to act but He does not force us to do so. Again, He empowers us; He does not possess us. The pagan religions of Corinth had people who allowed themselves to undergo demonic possession and oppression, where they lost control of themselves as they spoke in ecstatic gibberish or spoke supposed prophecies from their oracles. That isn’t Christianity. Biblical Christianity is far different, as it is given by the God of order and peace; not confusion.
  2. The word Paul uses for “confusion” is interesting in that it is the negated form (the opposite) of a word that means to “set down, put in place.” Paul’s use of the word refers to upsetting the order. That isn’t what God does – that isn’t God’s nature. God establishes order – God brings order out of chaos. Just look at what God did in creation: when the earth was without form and void with darkness on the face of the deep, God spoke forth light and firmament and organization. Where there was disorder and nothing, God brought order and life. Over the course of six days, God brought forth everything in its turn. There was nothing confusing about it. Additionally, God does not stir up trouble; He is a God “of peace.” That isn’t to say that God does not reserve wrath for the wicked (He does, from which anyone can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ!); rather, His goodness always leads to perfect peace. When we (as saved, born-again believers) stand in the presence of God in eternal heaven, we will not be in the presence of turmoil or strife or unsettled confusion; we will experience true wholeness, peace, shalom for all time.
  3. What does this tell us? Confusion is anti-Christian. If a practice in a church leads to confusion, it is not done rightly even if practiced with good intents. If something is truly given by God the Holy Spirit, then it builds up the church; it doesn’t confuse the church. If it’s confusing, cast it out. Don’t do it again until you can do it Biblically. This ought to inform everything all Christians do. This isn’t just a chastisement for the local congregation in ancient Corinth; this is a guiding principle for “all the churches of the saints.” It applies to us, too.

Are gifts to be used in corporate worship? Yes! In the right setting and in the right way, yes. But the right setting is never confusion. God gives good things and confusion isn’t good. Seek what is good and what builds up the church, according to God’s word. If we do that, God will guide us into the rest.

  • Avoiding interruption: women in the church (34-35).

34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

  1. There is no question this verse might stand out as blatantly offensive. It might lead to all kinds of assumptions and potential disturbing questions. For instance: Are all females supposed to be forever silent the moment they step foot inside a church building? If someone has two X chromosomes, are they forbidden from making any sound in the assembled congregation? We need to be careful not to put words in Paul’s mouth that he did not say, nor take his words out of context. Let us keep a few things in mind…
    1. First, it seems likely that Paul refers to wives, rather than all Christian women. The word used by Paul could be translated either as woman, wife, or bride, depending on the context. Considering that verse 35 is clear that these women had husbands, the immediate context is undoubtedly that of wives. Likewise, the section of Scripture this teaching concludes goes back to Chapter 11 where the context also speaks of wives and the symbol of authority on their heads. Additionally, the Old Testament Scripture used in support (which we’ll see in a moment) refers to the first marriage in history, i.e., Adam and Eve. Thus, this command has a specific context and application based on the specific address to wives.
    2. Second, there is a clear history of women who were used within the early church whose speech was used by God. Philip the evangelist (and one of the original deacons) had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Aquila’s wife Priscilla was a valuable asset to Paul in the Roman church (Rom 16:3) and was used by the Lord to help disciple the initially uninformed Apollos (Acts 18:26). The apostle John seems to indicate that one of the churches he oversaw met that the home of a particular elect lady (2 Jn 1), and Paul’s ministry in Philippi was helped along by the service of Lydia (Acts 16:14). And that does not even begin to describe the importance of the women who ministered to Jesus’ body after His crucifixion and who were the first witnesses to His resurrection. God used all these women (along with many more who are unnamed) in wonderful ways within the church.
    3. Third, we know that there are some things that women are to do with their voices in church, just like everyone is to do in church. How can someone sing out in praise without using his/her voice? Psalm 150 exhorts everything that has breath to praise the Lord. That is not limited by sex. How can someone join in corporate prayer or say “amen” without a voice? Similarly, the church does not disappear simply because a worship service has ended. A women’s gathering is still among the church. A Sunday school class is still among the church. A home fellowship is still among the church. Paul’s context obviously references none of those scenarios. He has a very specific silence in mind for a very specific circumstance.
    4. Fourth (and finally), within the context of this very letter, Paul has written of something that wives/women are supposed to do with their voices: pray and prophesy (11:5). Granted, the immediate context and application is that this is something that wives are not supposed to do without a symbol of authority/covering over them, but Paul does not outright forbid the prayer or prophecy itself. He forbids only the improper expression of it. 
    5. Put all of this together and we cannot avoid the conclusion that the command for silence is qualified. It is not a command that we can rip from its context and use as a tool of oppression. Rather, it is something (like all Scripture) that only has its correct application when it comes after thorough observation and correct interpretation.
  2. With all that in mind, what is Paul saying? The context is that of corporate worship with wives in godly submission to their own husbands (per verse 35). Notice that there are two imperatives: (1) to keep silent, and (2) to be submissive. Question: Are these two imperatives applicable only to wives? No. Again, look at the broader context for the passage as a whole. Those who speak in tongues are to remain silent when there is no interpreter (14:28). Those who give prophecies are limited to only two or three prophets with anyone whose prophecy is superseded by another to remain silent (14:30). In other words, there were many men in the church congregation who were also to remain silent, being in submission to the word of God and the Spirit of God. In fact, anyone who did not have something to offer by way of edification was to remain silent and people were not supposed to interrupt others in general. When the Spirit of God used the spiritual gifts to edify the congregation, all were to remain silent and to receive. The principle is not different today, as we recognize that there is a time and place to be silent as well as a time to speak. When the word of God is being rightly proclaimed, the Spirit of God is not going to interrupt Himself. This is why the congregation remains generally quiet during the sermon (apart from a few amens!). That is the time for assembled congregation to listen and receive God’s edification through the teaching of Scripture. – What Paul says to the wives is simply for them to remain silent, right along with others who remain silent at the appropriate times.
    1. In all of this, don’t miss something wonderful. There is something implied by Paul’s directive that might be overlooked when we concentrate only on the negative commands. Where were the wives to remain silent? “In the churches.” Where were the wives supposed to be? In the churches! The wives were not commanded to remain home and forbidden to join the assembled gathering for worship. On the contrary, wives (and all Christian women) were invited and welcome, being valuable members of the body of Christ. Should the women remain home, the congregation would be missing people who were needed, unnecessarily handicapping itself. Paul’s command does not shove women to the back. Far from it! Women are brought right into the middle of the congregation, serving God in the roles He has given to each one.
  3. As for the specific commands of silence and submission, Paul writes that this is based on the “law,” referring to the Old Testament Scripture. Which law did Paul have in mind? Although he does not provide a direct quote, it seems likely to refer back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3. Specifically, it might refer to one of the consequences of the fall. Genesis 3:16, “To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”” Remember what happened: the devil disguised as the serpent had encountered Eve in the garden and lied to her about the consequences of sin. He tempted her to eat of the specific tree God had forbidden, promising her that she would not die and that she would be like God (Gen 3:4-5). Eve believed the deception (no one had ever lied to her before!) and Adam failed to intervene and protect her. Both of them ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened to their sin. When God confronted them, He cursed each of them in punishment. The serpent would go in disgrace, awaiting the day that he would be crushed by the Seed of the woman (the future Messiah, Jesus Christ). The man would work the cursed ground, laboring over it to produce food and would face the inevitability of his own death. In between the two, God punished the woman with painful childbirth and a “desire/appetite” for her husband’s rule. Although Adam had headship and responsibility for Eve from the moment she was brought forth to him as his bride, now Eve longed for that place of authority for herself. Now she would long for something she was not given, being sorrowful. – What does that have to do with Paul and the Corinthians? Look at the commands: wives in the congregation were to remain silent and submissive…specifically in the context of prophecy. When the congregation was assembled and prophecies were heard, it was not the place of a Christian wife to judge the veracity of a prophecy over that of her husband. Even from a more general perspective in a congregational worship service, women are not to be in position of teaching authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-12). To judge prophecies inherently exercises authority, and there is a specific order for authority within the church that gives glory to God.
    1. That said, it needs to be emphasized that authority does not equal value. Just because God has an order of authority does not mean that anyone in that hierarchy has any more or less value than the other. Chapter 11 has already shown how “the head of Christ is God,” (11:3) with Jesus being fully submitted to His Father. Is God the Son somehow less valuable than God the Father? Certainly not! Jesus has a different role from the Father, but They are equal in worth. So too, with men and women / husbands and wives within the church congregation. We have different roles in the church and at home, but equal value in the eyes of the Lord. Men and women alike were bought with the same blood of Jesus, and we are sealed and empowered with the same Holy Spirit.

35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

  1. This gets back to the overall issue of orderly worship. Should a wife have a question regarding a prophecy or some other word, what is the right setting for that question to be asked? Should she interrupt the worship service and ask it right then and there? Of course not, no more than anyone else should interrupt a worship service for his/her own question. Better to ask that question at home than in the middle of service. Imagine someone today interrupting the sermon to ask a question…it would be a massive distraction to everyone else. There are times and places for questions. At home, after the service is completed, in small group Bible studies, classroom settings, etc. – these are all appropriate locations. The immediate context for Paul was a culture where the men had received far more Biblical education than most of the women, which made certain theological questions natural and common. Paul’s point was that instead of stopping the sermon or other worship service every few minutes for questions, to leave it till later. The husband, who (especially in a Jewish household) would have had far more Biblical experience could answer all the questions later to his wife’s content. And if he didn’t have all the answers, then they could both seek counsel and instruction from others in the church at a later time. 

Overall, the point was to avoid distraction. The worship service was to be dedicated to worship. Any undue focus on any particular individual (be it a wife or anyone else) was to be avoided.

Question: Why would the Corinthian church abide by any of this? To this point, Paul has laid down many commands regarding their unbiblical use of the gifts. God had gifted this church abundantly, and they likely considered themselves blessed. Why change now? Answer: Because although God gifted them, they were not treating God as sovereign over those gifts. God had given His command regarding those things, and His command is to be obeyed…

  • Avoiding anarchy: the word in the church (36-40). 

36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

  1. What was the problem? The Corinthians might have been tempted to write off Paul as being too restrictive. They might have read his words and thought, “Whatever. That’s just his opinion. We’ve had the gifts for a long time; we know what we’re doing here.” Considering Paul’s long experience with this congregation and their tendency to self-inflated so-called “wisdom,” this was more than just a potential assumption on Paul’s part. No doubt, this was exactly the tendency in Corinth, to think that they knew better. Paul understood he needed to address this head-on. There are two basic issues here:
  2. Issue #1: Spiritual gifts do not supersede Scripture. Although the local church is wonderful and ordained by God, it is possible for a local church congregation to be in error. Such was the case in Corinth. Although they were blessed by God with a wonderful abundance of spiritual gifts, they were using the gifts incorrectly. God’s word is bigger than the gifts – it is bigger than any purported fruit we might see in our lives. Sometimes we make the mistake of judging something only by its outcome. Initially, that might sound logical, but it is possible to get the right answer the wrong way. If you’ve got an infection in your big toe, you can take medicine or you can lop it off. Either way, the infection is gone. The methods used, however, (along with the pain!) is vastly different. Just because it looks like someone is speaking in a tongue or giving a prophecy does not mean that the person is actually doing it. We need to examine more than the supposed outcome; we need to look at the method used to get there. Is it according to God’s word? If not, throw it out…regardless of how “spiritual” it might appear.
  3. Issue #2: We are not the final authority; God’s word is. Not only did Corinth have the tendency to look only at the outcome, they set themselves up as the authority to judge that outcome. They made themselves the judge of God’s word, rather than submitting to authority of God’s word. Corinth was not alone in this error. This is the same sin committed by the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and any group that sets up historical and religious tradition as the lens through which to interpret Scripture, rather than Scripture as the lens to evaluate tradition. The word of God is to be supreme in our lives and in the practices of the church. If it is not, we are in sin.
  4. What does Paul say to those who refuse to submit to Scripture? “If anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.” If we choose to ignore God’s commands than the problem isn’t with the Bible; it’s with us. Moreover, those who ignore God’s word lose their standing with which to proclaim God’s word. NASB: “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” We are under no obligation to submit to anyone who does not himself submit to Scripture. It doesn’t matter what kind of reputation the person has, how much influence he wields, how much education is received, etc. If the person is not submitted and surrendered to the word of God, that person is in rebellion against God. Likewise, that person is not to be recognized by the church as one having authority.
  5. BTW: Paul recognized his letter to be Scripture. “The things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Did Paul have this understanding every time he wrote one of the canonical epistles? We don’t know. We do know that there were certain times he understood that he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was one of those times.

39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

  1. This is about as clear as it gets. Christians are to zealously seek after the gift of prophecy, and tongues are not to be outright forbidden, as long as they are practiced Biblically. For all the error that can exist among the Charismatic wing of the church, this is a verse that speaks plainly against the error of the Cessationist wing. There is a principle in the theology of worship termed the Regulative Principle. Basically, it states that what belongs in worship that which is seen within the Scripture. (The contrast to it is called the Normative Principle, in which anything that is not forbidden in Scripture is permissible.) For example, the church is to sing because we are expressly commanded to praise God with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). How it works out within the culture of various churches and denominations vary, but overall, we should seek to abide by the Regulative Principle and do what the Scripture commands us to do.
  2. With that in mind, consider the plain teaching of verse 39. How can churches claim to follow the Regulative Principles when they categorically deny even the possibility of tongues and/or prophecy? Surely we can debate whether the true Biblical gift is often seen today, but to forbid them outright is to deny the written text of Scripture. If we are truly submitted to the authority of God’s word, we need to be submitted to it both in areas of doctrine with which we are comfortable as well as that which we’re not.

40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

  1. The conclusion of the matter: use the gifts but use them rightly. Whatever is done within a church (and particularly a corporate worship service) is to “be done decently and in order.” It might even be translated, “according to proper procedure.” The church is to use whatever God the Spirit gives us, in the right way according to God’s own purposes. Use these things reverently and in God’s ordained manner.

Conclusion:

We need order within the church! That Paul commands order is not for him to quench the Spirit (by no means!); it us for him to teach the church how to come in line with God’s Spirit to use the gifts of God for the glory of God. The gifts are to be used; they are simply to be used rightly and orderly.

  • We are invited to use true God-given spiritual gifts in corporate worship, as long as we do not use them in a chaotic, confusing fashion.
  • Wives are invited to worship and participate in corporate worship, just as are all of God’s people, as long as they (and all of God’s people) do not cause interruption.
  • All Christians everywhere are invited to actively participate in corporate worship, as long as we do so under the authority of God’s word.

That is the ultimate issue, is it not? Are we, or are we not, submitted under the authority of God’s word? Do we believe the Scripture for what it says, and are we willing to abide by its commands? If we are, then we will experience the glorious plan of God for His church! Instead of seeking out conference after conference, experience after experience – instead of going by our feelings and the waves of our emotions – instead of being locked into our traditions – instead of all of these things, we will be the local church that God desires us to be, the church He has equipped us to be.

Where we have not surrendered to the Scripture, may God help us repent. Maybe we’ve committed error on the charismatic side – maybe on the cessationist side – maybe in our ego, where we thought we knew better. Whatever the case, may we submit ourselves anew to God and His word.

For all the controversy that surrounds the gifts of tongues, a simple question is why God might give them? Paul answers the question and shows a simple principle. Whatever God gives us, Christians are to use the things God gives according to God’s purposes for God’s glory.

Why Tongues?

Posted: March 21, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 14:13-25, “Why Tongues?”

 

Kids love the question of why.  “Why does fire burn?  Why is the sky blue?  Why is our car bouncy?” and on and on.  Perhaps one reason kids love asking “why” is because it is never ending.  There is always another unanswered question (and perhaps another reason to bug Mom or Dad!).  I’m not sure we ever grow out of the “why” phase.  We still ask the reason behind things, sometimes being satisfied with the answers we discover; other times, not.

As we look at the subject of spiritual gifts, the question of “why” pops to the forefront.  The reasoning behind some is obvious.  Other times, not so much.  The obvious: Why did Jesus heal?  Because there were people He encountered who required healing.  The not-so-obvious: Why doesn’t God always heal everyone?  We simply do not know.  There are times He heals miraculously, times He heals medicinally, and times He does not heal at all.  These things are hidden in His counsels and we might not know some of them until we get to heaven.

When it comes to two of the most controversial gifts, again we have a difference for their reasons.  We might be able to suppose a reason for prophecy (though the Bible tells us a couple of specific reasons in this text); the reason for tongues, however, is not-so-obvious.  Yet God does have His reasons.  And tongues will only be exercised rightly when they are exercised according to God’s own stated purposes.  Anything other than that is a distortion and misuse of the gift.

For as much as the Corinthians were blessed with spiritual gifts, they struggled with using them maturely.  The gifts, though wonderful, had become a source of division and disorder, to which Paul brought much-needed correction.  He began by affirming the blessing and the variety of the gifts.  Because they came from God the Spirit, they were good.  Likewise, because they came from God the Spirit, He decides who receives what gift, when.

At that point, Paul took a bit of a diversion, although the topic was entirely relevant.  The gifts are good, but there is something far better – there is something more excellent: love.  No discussion of the gifts can happen without looking at love, for love ought to be the governing factor in using the gifts.  Similarly, love ought be the governing factor in everything we do as Christians.  Love was perfectly exampled in Jesus, and love will endure throughout eternity.  If we do not practice true selfless love among one another in the church, whatever else we do with the gifts within the church is meaningless.

With that baseline established, Paul turned back to the gifts, focusing on tow in particular: prophecy and tongues.  Then (like today) these were two of the most controversial of the spiritual gifts.  What are they?  How should they be used?  Paul tacked the issue head-on.  Both are wonderful gifts, though prophecy is to be preferred.  Why?  Because prophecy edifies the most people.  The person speaking in a tongue speaks to God, edifying him/herself.  The person prophesying speaks a word from God, edifying the gathered congregation.  Both gifts are desired, but when we seek the gifts we ought to seek what is best for all.

Paul picks up with this point in verse 13, giving more clarity to the issue of tongues.  What does it benefit?  Why would God give them at all?  Here, Paul gives the answers.  Remember that the apostle did not want the Corinthians to be ignorant about spiritual things (12:1).  Here, he exhorts the Corinthians to grow in their knowledge and understanding.  Whatever gifts we use, we are to use them to spiritual maturing according to God’s own purposes as we point people to Jesus.

When it comes to the gift of tongues (and spiritual gifts in general), there are two primary needs: the need for understanding and the need for maturity.  When we keep these needs in mind, it will help us use the right gifts at the right time for the right purposes.

 

1 Corinthians 14:13–25

  • The need for understanding (13-19).

13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

  1. As we pick up with the “therefore,” we first need to look back to see the transition in thought. As other have said, we need to ask what the “therefore” is “there for.”  In this case, Paul was giving examples of certain sounds being chaotic noise when it is given without understanding.  Trumpets blaring random notes don’t communicate anything, where as a bugle blowing “Reveille” or “Taps” does.  Two people speaking different languages to one another sound like foreign barbarians to one another; some kind of common language is required for understanding or edification.  From that, Paul concluded that whereas zeal for spiritual gifts was good, the best use of the gifts is for the edification of the church.  Christians ought to use our gifts to build up one another in Christ; not to bring chaos or confusion.
  2. Thus, the “therefore.” If understanding is required, then the way we gain understanding with the gift of tongues is through the gift of interpretation.  Paul gives a clear directive to pray for interpretation.  Interestingly, it is the tongues-speaker that is to pray for the interpretation.  From some of Paul’s earlier writing, it is implied that this is not always the same person.  For instance, Paul already asked the rhetorical questions if all speak in tongues or all interpret, which came right after Paul asked if all worked miracles or if all had gifts of healings (12:30).  The obvious answer is “no,” not all Christians have all the gifts.  The same logic applies to the gifts of tongues and interpretations.  Although they are dependent on one another, they are different.  Someone who has the gift of tongues does not necessarily have also the gift of interpretation.  That said, there is nothing that stops the person from asking for it.  In fact, the person ought to ask for it.  There is no guarantee given that the person will receive it, but there is nothing wrong with asking.  It would be quite a blessing for the person speaking in tongues to receive also the interpretation that accompanies it.
  3. Why? For fruitful “”  There are two different Greek words in this section translated “understanding” by the NKJV.  The first refers to the mind/intellect.  This is our knowledge and awareness.  Without God-given interpretation, our minds have no idea what we speak in tongues.  Keep in mind this makes perfect sense (no pun intended).  By definition, tongues are languages unknown to the speaker.  If you already had the intellectual understanding of the things you spoke, then you would not be speaking in a Biblical tongue; you would merely be translating your regular language into a second or third language you’ve elsewhere learned.  Not so with a Biblical tongue.  When God the Spirit gives this gift, the person speaking has no idea of the specific content of the words that are uttered.
  4. What happens in the meantime? The person’s “spirit prays.”  Notice at this point that this serves as confirmation that tongues are prayers.  They are prayers of one’s own spirit.  How might our spirits pray?  Seemingly, they do so in ways that pass our “understanding,” or our minds/intellects.  In a different context, Paul wrote how our spirits “groan…eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body,” (Rom 8:23).  There are longings of our spirits that cannot be fully understood by our minds.  This is one reason the Holy Spirit Himself “makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” (Rom 8:26).  Obviously, when God the Spirit prays, His prayers are not the gift of tongues, for His groanings “cannot be uttered.”  The groanings of the Holy Spirit are His prayers for us; not our own groanings through any God-given tongue.  That said, it seems likely that if/when someone prays in a tongue, that person joins in the prayers that the Holy Spirit prays.
    1. Verse 14 is one of the Scriptures used to support the idea that tongues are prayer languages. Indeed, this seems to be the primary point of the gift of tongues.  Remember that Paul has already established that when a person speaks in a tongue, he/she speaks mysteries to God in/by his/her spirit (14:2).  We also know from the Day of Pentecost that during the one recorded time when tongues were understood without a separate gift of interpretation, the things that were spoken were “the wonderful works of God,” (Acts 2:11).  When we put these ideas together with 14:14, it is reasonable to conclude that the normal Biblical use of miraculous tongues is within the prayer lift of the people gifted with it.  Whether we call it “tongues” or “prayer languages,” the label is less important than the Biblical use and exercise of it.
    2. Question: “What if I don’t have a prayer language? Does that make me less of a Christian?”  Absolutely not!  A Christian does not require a prayer language to pray any more than a Christian requires the gift of healing to recover from the common cold.  Might it be helpful?  Is there a blessing?  Sure…but there are other ways that God blesses other Christians.  There are other ways to pray or to be healed.  Remember that God determines who gets which gifts, when those people receive those gifts.  If He sees fit to bless you with a tongue, praise the Lord.  If He sees fit to bless you with something else, praise the Lord.  Christian maturity is not marked by which gifts are exercised by a certain Christian; it is marked by the abundant expression of agape love from that Christian.  Remember how Chapter 13 began: Paul could speak with the tongues of men and angels, but if he didn’t have love, he just made noise.  The loving Christian who prays in plain sincere language has a far better prayer life than the unloving Christian who claims to speak in abundance of tongues.

 

The main point for Paul is that tongues require interpretation for our minds to gain understanding.  If we have no interpretation, then our intellects remain “unfruitful” with the tongue.  We cannot mentally participate in the spiritual expression given by God.  (Looking ahead, this provides the reasoning why uninterpreted tongues should not be entertained within the church assembly.)

 

15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

  1. Notice that just because intellectual understanding is more beneficial to those who are present, it does not mean that spiritual expression by itself is bad. Paul did and affirmed both.  He could worship and pray in his spirit, and he could worship and pray with understanding.  Both were beneficial and both were God-honoring because both were given by and empowered by God.  It isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario; it is both-and.  God gives both the expression by the spirit and with our mental understanding, so both are good.
    1. We need to be careful with committing the logical fallacy of false dichotomies. It can be easy for us to make everything into a zero-sum option: a thing is either 100% good or 100% bad – it is either holy or sinful, gospel truth or heresy, etc.  And yes, there are many things like this in the Christian faith…notably the gospel itself.  For instance, we are either saved by Jesus alone or we are not.  Either we preach the truth about Him or we do not.  There is no middle ground there, no shades of grey in the gospel.  That said, not everything in our theology is on that same level.  For instance, our views on the end-times (the timing of the rapture, the events of the Great Tribulation and 2nd Coming of Christ, etc.) are important, but well-meaning Bible-affirming Christians can reach different conclusions on these issues without entering into the realm of heresy.  Likewise, when it comes to our understanding of tongues within the church.  Some claim, “Unless I can understand with my mind every word spoken in prayer, it is surely evil.”  Others claim, “If you shut off yourself from the things of the Spirit, you put God in a box.”  Both camps tend to label the other as heretical.  But the Bible does not.  Paul writes that intellectual understanding is good, and that spiritual expression is good.  One does not invalidate the other.  Both can be good at the same time when expressed in the right way.
    2. This reminds us of the great need for love in the church. The more we believe the best about our brothers and sisters in Christ, the better.  The more we love one another in Christ, the better witnesses we will be for Christ among the world.
  2. Question: How might someone “sing with the spirit”? Considering that we do not seem to see an example of this in the New Testament, we cannot be certain.  Obviously, this was something known to Paul and even experienced by him.  Presumably, it was known to the Corinthian congregation, as Paul’s short mention of it comes without any explanation.  Perhaps it is a reference to singing in unknown languages – perhaps it was singing a new song as an improvisation, giving it to the Lord – perhaps it was a reference to the spiritual songs mentioned to the Colossians (Col 3:16) – perhaps it was something else entirely.  Whatever it was, it was commended by Paul as something good.  Any time we worship God in spirit and truth, it is a good thing.

 

 

16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

  1. The picture is clear. Imagine being at a prayer meeting (in Corinth or elsewhere), and someone stands up sharing a tongue.  That might be all well & good for that one speaker, but it doesn’t do much for anyone else.  How can the rest of the church respond?  In that case, a person doesn’t even know if he/she can say “Amen.”  How can a person agree with a statement that he/she does not understand?  It does not mean the uninterpreted words of the tongue are wrong or sinful; it just means no one else is able to benefit.  The words can be truthful, yet still unhelpful.
  2. As an aside, it is a reminder that we ought to be careful with how often we give our “amen.” We throw around the word as if it’s just something to say in church, but the word has a meaning.  It is essentially an agreement, a kind of “so be it.”  We say “amen” to the things with which we agree.  If we can’t agree with it, we cannot say amen.  If someone prays too soft or unintelligibly, you might be able to pray for that person, but you cannot truly agree with that person…you don’t know what they said.  Neither should we say “amen” with those who pray pagan prayers or other non-Christian prayers.  If a Mormon voices prayer to Jesus, we need to understand that he is speaking to a different Jesus than the true Jesus of the Bible.  If a person speaks a generic prayer in an interfaith gathering, are we certain of which god is being addressed?  To give our “amen” is to give serious assent…it ought to be taken seriously.

 

 

18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

  1. Point of fact: Paul spoke in tongues. The Holy Spirit used Paul in many miraculous ways – sometimes in judgment of people; other times in working miracles of healings.  Apparently, one of the other ways the Spirit used Paul was with the gift of tongues.  Interestingly, there is no record of this in the book of Acts.  For all the examples of tongues seen in the book of Acts, and even with an example of Paul overseeing the initial Corinthian converts speaking in tongues (Acts 19:6), not once is Paul said to have used the gift.  (Which is a reminder to us that the Bible records certain events in the lives of Jesus and others; it is not an exhaustive listing of everything that was said and done.)  Yet by Paul’s own testimony, he spoke in tongues and apparently did so often.  The fact that it was not recorded by Luke during Paul’s ministry is perhaps additional evidence that Paul’s own exercise of the gift was during his private personal prayer times.  There were many things Paul did publicly; speaking in tongues did not seem to be one of them.
  2. With that in mind, Paul was thankful for unknown tongues, but he saw far more benefit for the church with intelligible language. Be it prophecy or proclamation in teaching, Paul wanted his words in church to be understood.  Five understandable words were more beneficial than 10,000 unknown words.  If you’ve ever been in a foreign land where you don’t understand the language, you can imagine it for yourself.  As wonderful as it can be to sit next to other brothers and sisters in Christ overseas, if you don’t understand the language or have any interpretation, then you can be in the presence of the best sermon in the world yet not benefit one bit.  Everyone else around you might be exhorted and convicted, but you don’t experience anything except confusion and possibly even boredom because you have no understanding of the words.  Even just a few words in your own language makes all the difference, because those are words you understand.
    1. Do you see the problem with the way the gift of tongues is so often practiced in so many otherwise well-meaning churches? The question of the gift legitimacy aside, simply the practice/exercise is not Biblical.  If someone starts speaking in tongues in the middle of the congregation (or worse yet, many people all at the same time), as long as it is without interpretation, not a single person in the congregation has any understanding of what was said…including the person who spoke it.  What benefit is that?  What did it do for the church?  How did it glorify God?  Answer: it didn’t.  It might have been the expression of one person’s worship, but it gave nothing to the rest of the congregation.  A handful of words spoken in English would have been of far more benefit to the group.  It might have been only “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” but even that simple sentence offers more truth to the church than a sermon-full of uninterpreted tongues.

 

In all this, Paul shows one of the reasons that God gives tongues to certain people in the church: for spirit-led worship and prayer.  In that situation, it is wonderful.  Paul could truly thank God for the many times he spoke in tongues; he just didn’t do it around the rest of the church.  It was an opportunity for his spirit to pray and sing, and that was enough.

 

In contrast, by far the better thing were words spoken in language understandable by the mind (be it prophecy or any other gift like teaching).  Those were words that benefitted all.

 

Each is good in its own arena.  In personal prayer and worship time, tongues can do something prophecy cannot: express the inner-most longings of one’s heart and spirit to the Lord God in praise.  Besides, when you are alone in your own prayer closet (or wherever you pray and worship the Lord, however you give thanks), spoken prophecy does not benefit anyone because no one else is present.  Yet among the assembled congregation, things change.  In the gathered church, tongues are unfruitful without interpretation because no one understands, yet prophecy benefits all who hear.  If we would keep this straight, we would keep out of a lot of confusion!

 

 

  • The need for maturity (20-25).

20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.

  1. Recall that immaturity had been an ongoing problem in Corinth. Paul dealt with this early in the letter.  1 Corinthians 3:1–2, “(1) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (2) I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;”  Whether it was their sectarian division, their internal pride, or their tolerance of sins like sexual immorality or idolatry, this was a grossly immature church.  They may have been initially discipled by the apostle Paul, but they had quickly strayed from the narrow road.  Although they experienced much in terms of miraculous gifts, they grew little-to-none in maturity.  They remained spiritual children.  And just like immature children cannot be trusted behind the wheel of a car (regardless of age), neither could the immature Corinthians be trusted to use the spiritual gifts rightly.
  2. What did they require? Mature thinking.  That is idea behind the second word translated “understanding” by NKJV: it refers to “consideration/thinking.”  In verses 13-19, it referred to the mind; in verse 20 it refers to what goes on in the mind.  The Corinthians needed to stop thinking like spoiled brats wanting to see all the sparkly miraculous stuff of the gifts; they needed to grow up and change their thinking regarding how God wanted them to use the gifts.  It is good to be childlike regarding “malice” and evil – we ought to want to be as innocent as possible regarding the things of sin.  In the things of God, however, we need to be mature.
  3. What is maturity? Something brought to completion.  The root word is the same that Jesus spoke when hanging on the cross, declaring “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30).  Just like the work of atonement was brought to its perfect fulfillment through Jesus’ sacrifice, so is our spiritual understanding to be brought closer and closer to completion.  Will we ever get there?  Not in this life.  But that isn’t an excuse to stop growing and maturing.  Every year that passes is another year in which we had to grow in our faith, to grow in our dependence on Christ, to grow in our understanding of His grace.  We ought to be always maturing, giving glory to God as He continually transforms us by the renewing of our minds.

 

 

21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

  1. To this point, everything Paul has written about the gift of tongues has been about its use within the church and among born-again believing Christians. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of tongues (12:10, 28); not all Christians expect the gift of tongues (12:30); tongues are less important than love (13:1); tongues will cease in heaven (13:8); tongues speak mysteries to God (14:2); tongues edify the individual speaking (14:4), offering little value to others apart from interpretation (14:5-6).  Additionally, we’ve seen that Paul affirmed that he personally spoke in tongues (14:18) and desired it for the church (14:5).  Put it together, and the context shows that tongues are spoken by born-again Christians in their praise and worship of God.  How then, does Paul say that tongues are a sign to “unbelievers”?  How might an edifying Spirit-empowered gift used in personal prayer and praise be a sign to unbelievers?
  2. This is the tie to the loose quote from Isaiah. Isaiah 28:11–12, “(11) For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, (12) To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear.”  Contextually, the “stammering lips and another tongue” that the Israelites would hear was the language of the Assyrian army.  When the ancient Israelites heard the foreign language in the streets of their cities, it was a judgment upon them and a sign of God’s wrath.  The Assyrian army had come to conquer, brought there by the Lord God Himself.  God had repeatedly reached out to northern Israel in mercy, inviting them to repent, but they would not hear…not even at a rudimentary level.  They continually rebelled against God, thus earning their judgment.
  3. Of course, that was Israel and the foreign languages they heard. What does that have to do with the church?  Remember that tongues are foreign languages.  Likewise, they are signs of God’s judgment to those who are in rebellion against Him.  The same words that edify a born-again Christian as his/her spirit praises God are words of judgment to a non-believer who happens to overhear.  It is a demonstration of God’s sovereign power and His ultimate rule over all the word.  It is a stark reminder that this same Almighty God will one day rule the world.  So yes, it is a sign to unbelievers: a sign of judgment.
    1. This too, was seen during the original demonstration of tongues on the Day of Pentecost. Remember the initial Scriptures quoted by Paul in his explanation of the wondrous tongues heard by those in the streets. [Acts 2:14-21] The tongues were part & parcel of the signs expected prior to the Day of the Lord, the day when God would come in final judgment over all the earth.  Thankfully, there was an invitation and opportunity to be saved (through the resurrected Jesus, whom Peter went on to preach), but the demonstration of tongues was a sign that God’s judgment was near.  There was not any time to waste.  The supernatural tongues were proof.
    2. They still are. Any demonstration of the power of God reminds us that there is a living God who will judge the world in righteousness.  This God cannot be ignored.  One day, all men and women will see Him in His righteous glory, and we will give account for everything we have done in this life.  (Are you ready to see Him?  Are you sure?)
  4. In contrast to tongues, prophecy is a sign to believers. What makes the difference?  The understanding.  When true prophecy is spoken, the Spirit bears witness in the hearts of Christians that the spoken word is in accordance with the written word.  The believers who hear true prophecy receive edification and exhortation and comfort.  True prophecy speaks to born-again believers in a way that unbelievers cannot understand. 

 

 

23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

  1. Imagine a church assembly where scores of people all speak with tongues at the same time. Imagine a place where different tongues are being loudly proclaimed from difference points in the room.  Paul wasn’t necessarily accusing the Corinthians of doing this in their own congregation.  The “if” he uses in this verse (as well as in the next) is a true hypothetical.  Basically, Paul is saying, “Suppose this happens.” What results from disorderly, uninterpreted tongues within a congregation?  Chaos – misunderstanding – accusations of madness.  Someone coming into the church from the outside, being unfamiliar with the practice, would walk away thinking, “These people are crazy.  What’s wrong with them?”  Instead of being convicted of the coming judgment of God, the outsider would simply blow off the church as being nuts.
  2. It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, this was the initial thought of the crowd in Jerusalem when they first heard the disciples on Pentecost.  Even though the tongues were rightly spoken in that instance and various people in the Jewish crowd understood the things that were spoken in their own languages, there were many in the crowd who mocked the disciples, accusing them of being drunk (Acts 2:13).  They tried to find some reason to explain away the unexplainable, and they settled on the foolishness that would have better described themselves than the disciples of Jesus.  Peter pointed out the absurdity of the accusation when he pointed out it was only 9am (the third hour of the day – Acts 2:15).  It wasn’t the time for drinking; what took place was only due to the Spirit of God.
  3. That said, if the original disciples were accused of mad drunkenness at a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the sign of tongues, how much more might other Christians be accused of madness when the gift is exercised wrongly? How careful Christians need to be!  It does not mean that tongues stop being a sign of judgment to the unbeliever, but when it is done chaotically without understanding, then even the intended sign will be missed.  At that point, the attention of the outsider will not be put upon the glorious God, but upon the unruly church.
    1. One of the worst things any Christian can do is get in the way of someone else seeing Christ. Remember how Jesus condemned the Pharisees for shutting up the kingdom of heaven from others.  They neither went in themselves, nor did they allow others to go in (Mt 23:13).  Christians do something similar when we block people from seeing Jesus.  When we take away attention from Jesus and put it on us, the net effect is little different than that of the Pharisees.  The motive might be different; the result is not.
    2. Yet that happens at so many churches and other conferences that hold to extreme charismatic views. How many videos have we seen (or perhaps places we’ve been) where men and women run around on stage, shouting, proclaiming all kinds of supposed signs and wonders in chaos and disorder?  People fall down left & right, various people shout from the audience, supposed tongues are spoken all at once, the supposed glory of God falls from the ceiling, etc.  Is it any surprise an outsider looks at that, calling it madness?  Is there anything about those displays that point to the glory and holiness of God?  When all that can be seen is the sinful pride of men, no one looks to Christ for forgiveness…no one looks to Christ at all.
    3. How tragic! The very thing most needed by the world is the pure gospel of Jesus Christ: the message that the Son of God gave Himself for the sins of men and women, dying on the cross and rising from the grave, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  The message that anyone who receives Jesus as Lord will be made a child of God, forever forgiven by God and sealed for eternity by the Holy Spirit.  It is a glorious message and the only message that offers hope to mankind…but it is a message that will never be heard when someone walks out the door after seeing madness.  The very person who most needed to be saved will walk away from his/her only hope for salvation, believing the message to be foolishness for all the wrong reasons.  That person witnessed a disorderly disobedient church; not the risen Jesus.  Yet that person will reject the risen Jesus because of the disobedient church.  May God help us!

 

 

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

  1. What makes the difference?   When all the congregation speaks in tongues at the same time in a disorderly fashion without interpretation, no one can understand anything.  But if all prophesy as given by the Holy Spirit (provided it is not done chaotically, where those assembled can hear all the prophecies and receive them), then the outsider will not be stumbled by the church.  On the contrary, that outsider will hear the word of God and be convicted.  How so?  Because prophecy, like Scripture, reveals the word of God which pierces the heart (Heb 4:12).  When prophecy is real, then it is given by God the Spirit, and God the Spirit uses His word to cut people to the heart.  He uses His word to reveal sin, to peel away false motives, and to convince people of the judgment of God.  God uses His word to speak straight to the hearts of men and women, getting past all their roadblocks and excuses.  And when that happens, men and women come to faith.  That is when people “will worship God and report that God is truly among” the church.
  2. This is one more reason why Paul so desired prophecy to be maturely exercised among the Corinthians. He wanted this church to be as effective as possible in their city.  Instead of letting their childish exercise of the gifts get in the way of the gospel of Christ; Paul wanted them to be mature in their proclamation of Jesus, to the point that strangers walking in off the street would not be able to help but see the work of God among them.

 

This is our desire for our church and for every church.  Does it require frequent use of supernatural gifts?  No.  God will give gifts as He sees fit, in ways that glorify Him best.  But God does work supernaturally among His people because He is the living God.  And He has equipped every single one of us with His word and His gospel, which alone is enough to pierce people to the heart and point them to Jesus.  Imagine a church where outsiders walking in off the street witness the people of God cleansed by the grace of God, loving each other in the power of God, praising God for the gospel of God, ministering to each other by the Spirit of God, being changed by the word of God.  At that point, the outsider cannot help but see Jesus as the Son of God!  Beloved, that is our desire as a church congregation!  We want people to see Jesus, that they might be saved.  But it won’t happen when we put ourselves in the way.  God does not give us spiritual gifts so we can get in the way of the gospel; He gives us the gifts so we can use them according to His purpose for others to see Jesus.

 

What does it require?  Maturity.  We cannot afford to act like immature children playing with spiritual toys.  Instead, we need to use the tools God has given us by His grace for His glory.

 

Conclusion:

Christians need to grow up!  That was Paul’s message to the Corinthian church and that is the message to the modern church today.  We need to grow in our understanding and grow in our maturity.  Be it with the gifts or anything else God entrusts us with, we need to use them according to His purposes for His glory.

 

For what reason did God give tongues?  (1) As a boon and help for spirit-led prayer and worship.  To be sure, not every Christian has the gift, but those who do are edified by it when practiced rightly.  (2) As a sign of judgment to unbelievers, convincing them of the reality of God.  Again, when practiced rightly, it is a powerful sign of judgment as it shows there are things about this world that humans cannot rightly comprehend.  All men and women will one day answer to the Judge, from whom nothing is hidden.

 

Likewise, for prophecy the purpose is two-fold.  (1) Prophecy is a sign to believers, with the true Spirit-given word confirming the Spirit-inspired written word of God.  It edifies, encourages, and comforts Christians as we understand the living God speaking to our hearts.  (2) Prophecy convicts sinners unto repentance.  For them, the piercing word of God is not a comfort; it is a conviction.  The hidden secrets of the heart are revealed, and it becomes crystal-clear that they must respond to this God in fear, humility, and faithful submission.

 

Of course, knowing the reason for these gifts might not seem to be much use to those who do not have them.  A person might think, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t know that I’ve ever spoken in a tongue or even a prophecy.  What does any of this have to do with me?”  Fair enough.  You need to remember a few things:

  1. God gives the gifts to whom He wants, when. Just because you can’t see how God has done it in your past does not mean He will not do something in the future.
  2. We cannot recognize the true use of the gifts if we do not recognize God’s word concerning the gifts. There are many who claim all kinds of supernatural experiences, especially concerning tongues and prophecy.  How might these testimonies be properly evaluated, unless we understand what God’s written word says on the matter?
  3. The principles behind the proper use of these gifts speak to every We are to use what God gives according to God’s purposes for God’s glory.  That might apply to spiritual gifts like tongues, but it definitely applies to the way we use our time or our finances or our abilities.  It applies to every single opportunity God gives us in life.  Use what God gives according to God’s purposes for God’s glory.  Use what God gives you to point people to Jesus, without getting in the way.  That is something that can be done by every believer, by the grace of God.