Monday, April 25, 2011

Prophecy and the Art of Not Being A Clanging Cymbal (1 Corinthians 13-14)

We've been focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts God gives to his people so that we can be the body of Christ and embody Christ in the world. The way we have gone about this is to work our way through the passages in Paul’s epistles in the New Testament that deal with the gifts of the spirit.

Romans 12

We saw in Romans 12 that these various gifts were graciously given by God and that we were not to think to highly of ourselves but use them in service in the body .

Ephesians 4

In Ephesians 4 Paul talks about Christ giving specific gifts to the church and that they were not an end in themselves but rather gifts given so that all may be equipped to minister, use their gifts and grow in maturity. We saw that we are all the ministers and these people are gifts to empower them to be the assistants to the ministers.

1 Corinthians 12-14

Then for the past two weeks we’ve been working our way through Paul’s largest body of teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

It starts off with Paul saying he doesn’t want his readers to be uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit. The church was divided into many different groupings and factions and when it came to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there was an unhealthy focus on the Gift of speaking in tongues. It was seen as being evidence of God’s blessing on a particular group. They saw themselves as the Spiritual ones and others as less Christian or sub Christian because they didn’t manifest this gift openly in public worship.

Many gifts one Spirit, many services One Lord, many works one God

Paul's starts his argument by saying that there are in actual fact many different gifts given by the one Spirit. That the focus is not just on the one, on tongues, but that God wanting to speak and move through his people in a diversity of ways.

One body many parts

He illustrates that by saying that just like a human body needs different parts with different functions to be alive and healthy so it is with the church as the body of Christ. We all need to play our part and we have been given gifts to do that.

Given for the common Good

He moves the focus from being about the individual to the fact that these various gifts are given for the common good. To illustrate that in 1 Corinthians 12 we have two different lists of the various gifts of the spirit. In each list he places speaking in tongues at the end, not to denigrate it or put it down but as a way of correction the thinking of the group of people within the church.

Seek greater gifts but there is a better way

Paul encourages his hearers to seek the greater gifts and then tells them that he can show them a better way. That leads us onto the passage we had read out to us today where Paul tells them that the context for using the gifts of the Holy Spirit is Love. Then he illustrates that context by showing how the gift of prophecy is superior to tongues when it comes to public worship. So our focus today is the gift of prophecy and how not to sound like a clanging gong.

Paul starts his teaching about the better way by saying if I speak with the tongues of angels and men but do not have love I’m just like a loud annoying unmusical clanging gong or cymbal. He cuts right to the heart of the thoughts of the ‘spiritual' group in Corinth. They thought that because they were in Christ that they were now spiritual beings, like the angels, it’s part of the reason that this group had given up on sex even within the confines of marriage. Scholars think that this may also be behind Paul having to teach on head coverings and hair lengths in 1 Corinthians 11, they had decided that as they were now totally in Christ that they didn’t need to follow any of the conventions of their culture in terms of gender identity. They were living as if Christ had come and the kingdom of God was not only inaugurated but consummated. Paul in this section uses a metaphor in this passage from a prominent industry in Corinth to illustrate that is not the case. Corinth was known for its high quality bronze mirrors and at the end of the chapter on Love Paul says now we only see as if in a mirror darkly: The sort of mirror that the quality control people in Corinth would send back to be polished again.

He tells them that they may think their speaking in the tongues of angels and man was a badge of their spiritual supremacy but if there was not love it wasn’t anything. He’s not putting down speaking in tongues here because he goes on to say well any gift even prophecy, or knowledge, another gift highly prized by the Corinthians even wonderful acts of self sacrifice were nothing if we don’t have love for each other.

The evidence of Christ in our lives, of spiritual maturity is Love, Christ like love. Spiritual manifestation could be faked, they came with pagan worship as well as Christian faith. They were no guarantee of Christian ethics, in fact in Corinth they were being used in a unloving way, in one up man ship, to show that I’m more spiritual than you are. There is no way that could possibly be because the sign of Christ in our presence is ... Love.

Paul then goes on in a passage I often preach on at weddings but is for the church to spell out the qualities of this Love. In the diagram we’ve been using as we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit’s work in believers lives, we’ve seen that foundational to that work is changing our character to resemble Christ’s. That is why the longest section of our series on the Holy Spirit is going to focus on the fruit of the Spirit. When Paul talks about Love here note that many of these attributes of Love he later writes as being the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives: The fruit which is the sign that we are growing into maturity in Christ; that we are ripening as we abide in the vine. At the heart of the Christian faith is Love is the care and concern we have for each other and how we live that out. People will know about Jesus, because we speak in tongues or we sacrifice our lives, give our money away out a sense of duty... no. They we will know Christ because of the Christ like love we have for each other.

Paul is very clear. Love is a better way says Paul because its eternal, this other stuff will pass away when Christ returns but love is eternal . Now people have tried to use this paragraph at the end of Corinthians 13 to say the gifts of the spirit were only for the early church, once we had the new testament we didn’t need them anymore. But the emphasis is very much on Christ’s return. Paul wouldn’t have had the remotest idea that his writing and the gospels that were being written about this time would have become the authoritative collection we have now. And the focus is on seeing him face to face, which the Corinthians thought was the case now. Paul finishes his letter by explaining the physical resurrection from the dead when Christ returns as being different than now. Only when that happens will we not need the gifts of the Spirit.

So Paul says to the Corinthians to stop acting like children. You know what it’s like at Christmas with gifts. They are opened and the focus is on the gifts, we’ve got some new toys to play with and look at mine isn’t it cool. Then you’ve got the teenager stage haven’t you, Oh I wish you’d got me the other more expensive brand. But says Paul now I am a man and I realise it’s not the gift it’s the love behind the gift. he emphasis is on the one who gives the gift.

I have a stone in my office that James gave me, It didn’t cost a thing but the fact when he picked it up he thought of me is what gives it value. It’s the love that’s important that will last. In fact says Paul there are three things that remain faith, hope and Love and even out of those three the greatest is love. So love seeks the gifts of the spirit yes but in love, as abilities and manifestations from the Spirit that empower us to love.

Prophecy v. Tongues in public worship

Then Paul moves on to talk about why he thinks prophecy is more significant in the context of Public worship than speaking in tongues. He’s not deriding tongues as we will see next week but saying that for him prophecy in public worship is better because it is about Love.

Speaking to God v.Speaking to people

Build up individual v. build up body

Mystery v. intelligible

Speaking in tongues says Paul is directed towards God and builds up the individual believer. It is a prayer language between the person and God. There is nothing wrong with building up the individual believer but it’s not the function or focus of public worship. Prophecy is about speaking to people, its intelligible it is God timeless word spoken in a timely manner; therefore it edifies and builds up the church as a whole. That’s why it’s more significant. It is spoken out of love to encourage and build up the whole body. What is spoken in tongues is a mystery unless it is interpreted when it becomes a form of prophetic utterance. But to speak Gods word builds everyone up.

We tend to think of prophecy in the context of telling the future of foretelling, but in scripture prophecy is telling forth the word of God, applying it to today to our situation. When Paul talks of prophecy we don’t actually have a total grasp on what he is meaning. In contemporary Charismatic understanding in It can be that someone shares a brief word that they felt God had them to give. It could be bring a bible passage. One of the ladies in our congregation talks about her bible study guide that she reads each day and says that it takes the scripture reading and it connects it to what she is going through that day.  I remember one time we had a time of open prayer here at Knox that I really felt one of the prayers prayed was a form of prophetic message for us today. Classically it has been connected with preaching. I hope is when I preach it’s prophetic, not just pathetic, that as well as expounding and explaining God’s word that it is timely and poignant for us today. Some see it as speaking and acting in  away that addresses the social justice issues of our day.

Gordon Fee believes that Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 1 about the resurrection is an example of what Paul considers prophecy. It takes the scriptures and the gospel message and applies it to the question and issue that the church is wrestling with, in this case the correct understanding of eschatology, and how it effects the way they were living as Christians.
Can be negative for non believers v. can be positive for non believers

Paul also goes on to say that prophecy is better in public worship because of the impact it can have on unbelievers who come into meetings. Now 1 Corinthians 14:22 has been used to justify tongues been seen as a positive sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit but that’s hard to justify in the context of the passage. Paul almost says the opposite it’s a turn off. The Corinthians thought it was a sign of Gods favour and blessing but Paul actually suggests that if it is used all the time in public worship then it’s a negative sign. That  uninitiated folk would come in and say it’s a sign that all these folk are crazy. Whereas Prophecy intelligibly speaking the word of God in a timely manner, would have the result of having all secrets revelled and lead to people’s conversion. In public worship it was more loving because it allowed God to speak through his people to the believers to build them up and to the non believers to bring them to Christ.

That’s why Paul says we should all seek to prophecy. We should all seek to hear what God has to say and to share it with one another. What if you’ve miss heard well Paul will go on in this chapter to say its up to the person to say what they believe God is telling them to say and it’s up to the people of God corporately to discern if it is from God. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 12 discernment of spirits and prophecy are closely linked. We need to be flexible in our worship together to allow room for people to speak what they believe God is saying. If you feel God speaking then please write it down and give it to me. Folk we are called to love one another and part of that love for each other is having stuff to share with each other, not only materially, but in the serving of our gifts and in speaking God’s word to one another. You are the body of Christ; you have been filled with God’s spirit he wants to use you to speak his word.

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