The Facts of Faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

I want you to stop for just a moment and think about the greatest vacation you have ever taken. Do you have those special memories locked into your mind? Good! Now think with me: what made that vacation so memorable? Great food, great fun, great sights, and great fellowship, right? Now, when you left on this vacation did you just jump on a plane and take off? Of course not! Before you departed on your dream vacation, what did you have to do? You had to make sure you could take the necessary time off from work. You had to have saved enough money to get to and fro. You had to book airfare and lodging. You had to research the location you were traveling to. Perhaps you even had to learn a foreign language. Upon reflection, you had to put a lot of thought and effort into your vacation, didn’t you?

The same truth applies to moving to a new city. What do you do when you finally decide you are moving? You visit the new area and check out the neighborhoods, the schools, the climate, the churches, the restaurants, the gyms, the shopping areas, and the entertainment options. You do your homework in advance and discover everything you can about the new city because it’s going to be your new home.

What I find so surprising and tragic is most people give more thought to vacations and relocations than they do their eternal destination and their quality of life there. We don’t prepare for our trip to our eternal home. I hope that we can change that as we study through 1 Cor 15. In 1 Cor 15 we come to one of the most important chapters of the Bible—the resurrection chapter. Interestingly, this chapter is the longest chapter of any New Testament epistle, and the book of 1 Corinthians is the longest epistle in the New Testament. Paul’s words in this chapter divide into two distinct sections. The first section (15:1-34) makes the case for the reality and certainty of the resurrection. The second section (15:35-58) explains how the resurrection is possible and discusses the nature of resurrection bodies. Paul spent so much time on this topic because the Corinthians had come to believe in life after death without bodily resurrection.

Yet, Paul is not trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus but to argue from it that Christians will be resurrected. The Corinthians evidently believed in the immortality of the soul but had bought into the popular Greek view that once a person takes his last breath, it was curtains for the physical body. Not so, says Paul, and he argues in great detail from Scripture and from reason that there is a future for our physical bodies, as well as for our souls. But before he can adequately defend the believer’s resurrection, he has to deal with Christ’s resurrection, for His paved the way for ours. In 1 Cor 15:1-11, Paul exclaims, “What goes down must come up.” In these eleven verses, Paul imparts two features of the gospel.

  1. The gospel is trustworthy(15:1-8). In this first section, Paul explains the contents of our relationship with God. In doing so, he particularly emphasizes the validity of the resurrection. Again, Paul does not try to prove that the resurrection of Christ actually happened. Instead, he assumes the resurrection as fact. In these verses, he simply wants us to know that Christ has risen from the dead. Paul begins by stating in 15:1-2: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” As with some of the other topics dealt with in this letter, Paul starts answering the problem even before he defines it in 15:12. What Paul is saying now is no different than what he shared with the Corinthians previously. The gospel still works today. This is certainly not the first time the Corinthians have heard this truth, rather Paul is reminding them of something they have forgotten. Paul uses this phrase when he wants to share something important (cf. 12:3). It is as though a father is sitting down with his son and saying, “Now I want to go over your responsibilities around the house one more time…” I can relate to this, as I am sure you can as well. The bulk of our faith is review. As Christians what we really need is to be reminded of what we already know.We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. When we do this, we experience a new surge of life and love for Christ.

Paul wants to remind his readers of what the gospel is. The term “gospel” means “good news.” This is the message that Paul preached to the Corinthians for the eighteen months he served as their pastor. Paul is writing with the confidence that the Corinthians are bona fide believers.

  • Paul states that they have “received” the gospel. The verb “received” speaks of a response in the past. Salvation is the miracle of a moment. If the gospel worked for you when you believed in Christ and it’s not working for you now, you changed, not the gospel.
  • Paul states that the Corinthians “stand” on the gospel. The verb “stand” indicates present stability on the basis of past action. Archimedes, a 2ndcentury Greek scientist and mathematician, once said, “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.” The gospel gives us a place to stand. Jesus Christ is our stability and security.
  • Paul affirms that the Corinthians are “saved” by the gospel he preached. To be “saved” means “to be delivered or rescued.” The words “are saved” should be translated “are being saved” to reflect the present tense verb. There are three phases to salvation: past, present, and future. Having received the gospel at a point in the past, God begins to work on us so that we become more like Him.If we hold fast the gospel we initially received we will experience spiritual health. The phrase “unless you believed in vain” is referring to the hopelessness of our faith apart from Christ’s resurrection (cf. 15:14, 17).

Paul has great confidence in this gospel message because Christ’s death and resurrection is prophetically and historically verifiable. In 15:3-5, Paul is going to clearly and succinctly share the core elements of the gospel. He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” An important phrase immediately jumps out because it is repeated in 15:3-4: “according to the Scriptures.”

In the Old Testament, God predicted that Christ would die and rise again. One of the strongest arguments that Jesus is the Christ is how He fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. In 15:3, Paul states that he delivered to the Corinthians the gospel he had received from other apostles. This gospel was “of first importance” and foundational to everything else in the Christian life. Underline that phrase “of first importance” in your Bible. We can discuss and debate the Charismatic gifts of 1 Cor 12-14 and other non-essential issues, but the gospel is “of first importance.” It is a non-negotiable. The reason for this is the gospel did not originate from Paul or any other man; rather it was received from God and then delivered to people. It is God’s gospel, not ours. No one would have ever devised a plan of salvation like this one, for mankind always tries to obtain salvation the old-fashioned way—“to earn it.” But the good news of the Christian gospel is that salvation is a free gift—costly to Christ but free to us. Here are the facts of the gospel.

Fact 1: “Christ died for our sins.” There are three important elements to the first fact of the gospel. First, Jesus Christ. Say that powerful name out loud a few times. The gospel centers on Jesus Christ, not Buddha, Mohammed, not even God. You believe in God? Good! But God wants to know: what are you going to do with His Son, Jesus Christ? Responses such as: “I go to church every week and I’m a good father or mother” have nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus Christ. Second, Jesus Christ died. One quarter of the gospel accounts focus on the death of Christ. Plenty of other information was left out so that we would grasp the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the issue is what happened on the cross and why did it happen? Third, Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus did not die as a good example; He did not die because He was a nice martyr; Jesus Christ died for our sins. Sin is a concept one doesn’t hear a lot in our culture today. We hear about illnesses, addictions, and disorders, but we don’t hear much about sin. Yet, the truth is: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of every man, woman, and child that has ever lived. Sin is the reason Jesus went to the cross.

Christ had to die because you and I were in trouble with God. What puts us in trouble with God is our sin. Just so that there is no doubt, let me clarify what sin is: Sin is anything contrary to the character and commandments of God. To boil down this definition even further, sin is merely leaving God out and failing to worship Him properly. If you have ever done this, you’ve qualified yourself to be a first-degree sinner. The only reason God made you was to leave Him in. He created you to have fellowship with Himself. But you and I have continually rejected His affections.

As a result, Paul and the rest of the biblical writers teach that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The word “for” means “in the place of, because of.” This is substitution. A substitute is a person who takes the place of another. We should have died for our sins but Jesus died in our place. Jesus took your place that you might have His place. He took your hell that you might have His heaven. That is His substitutionary death. It is the heart of the gospel. Jesus’ life does not save us. His teaching does not save us. He saves us by His death on the cross. There is no other way to get rid of our sins. The good news of the gospel is that when Christ died for our sins, He died for our past, present, and future sins. He covered all of our sins for all time. Are you having trouble forgiving yourself for sins you have committed? Remember, Christ’s death was sufficient for your sins. His death satisfied God’s wrath against sin.

Fact 2: “Christ was buried.” Christ’s death was not an accident that left Him lying for a while along some deserted roadway. He did not endure His agony away from the notice of the crowd; rather, His death was the center of the city’s attention. Furthermore, as the center of the city’s attention, the scene was one of deliberate execution. This was a public execution by soldiers whose own lives depended upon their ability to carry out the death sentence. There were no heroic efforts to save His life. No emergency unit was called to rush His body to a trauma center where it could be placed on life support systems until vital signs returned. The evidence states that Christ actually died and spent three days in a tomb. His death was confirmed by His executioners, who didn’t take any chances but plunged a spear into His side. Then He was carried away, wrapped according to the embalming custom of the day, and placed in a tomb, sealed by a heavy rock. The emperor’s seal was placed on the tomb to warn grave robbers, and a guard was posted to make sure that no one brash enough to risk his life to steal a dead body would be able to do it. All of this is a reminder to us that what happened three days later was not just a physical resuscitation. Christ didn’t rally from a nonfatal injury. He was not buried alive. He died! 

Fact 3: “Christ was raised.”  Jesus Christ arose! Buddha has died. Mohammed has never arisen from the dead. What makes Christianity distinct and true is that the Messiah of Christianity is no longer in the grave…His bones are nowhere to be found…He is alive! The firm foundation of the Christian faith is an empty tomb. Peter Larson said, “The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit.’”

When you buy something at a store, the clerk accepts your money and gives you a receipt confirming that the bill was paid in full. If there is ever a dispute about whether the payment was made, all you have to do is produce your receipt. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He uttered the Greek word tetelestai, which means, “Paid in full.” The payment for sin that God demanded has been paid, and the empty tomb is proof that the payment was received and the debt satisfied. The resurrection is our “receipt” from God the Father that He accepted His Son’s payment for sin on the cross.

Fact 4: “Christ was seen.” Paul notes that Jesus appeared to Peter and the apostles. This is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. It is amazing that the first person, after all of the women at the tomb, the resurrected Christ appears to the very one who had denied Him three times. This ought to encourage you. God is a God of restoration. He has forgiven you for all of your sins—past, present, and future. All that He wants is for you to run to Him like Peter did (Luke 24:12).

Now that we have looked at the facts of faith, can I ask you a question? Do you know the gospel better than you know sports statistics, movie lines, and song lyrics? Could you preach the gospel message in your sleep? Are you that comfortable presenting the facts of faith? If not, you should be. There is no more important message in this world.

The great Emperor Napoleon had three commands he gave his messengers as they conveyed his messages to various sections of his army. Those three commands were, “Be clear! Be clear! Be clear!” Those who are entrusted with proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ must also be clear. So let me be clear right now: You have sinned against a holy and righteous God (Rom 3:23). The penalty for your sin is eternal separation from Him (Rom 6:23). Yet, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for your sins (Rom 5:8). He then demonstrated that He was God by rising from the dead (Rom 1:3-4). Today, He asks you to trust in His person and work (Rom 3:21-26; John 3:16).

You know, a teacher can stand up every Sunday and tell the truth and never teach the gospel. For example, I can say, “Diphtheria is a bad disease.” Now that is the truth, but that isn’t good news. But if I say, “Here is a medicine that can prevent diphtheria or cure diphtheria,” that’s the good news. And that’s the gospel. Will you believe the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ today?

In 15:6-8, Paul moves from the message of the gospel to a strong argument for the resurrection of Christ—historically verifiable witnesses. He records, “After that [His resurrection] He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” Paul’s main argument is that there were still eyewitnesses to the resurrection living at the time he was writing this first letter to the Corinthians. Paul is inviting people to check out the reality of the resurrection for themselves. He is saying, “There are nearly five hundred people who, some twenty years ago, saw Jesus after His resurrection. Ask one of them.” This is very convincing proof of the resurrection, because Paul would never have challenged people like this in a public letter that was going to be circulated if these eyewitnesses had not in reality seen the resurrected Christ. Paul was convinced that his witnesses would confirm the facts. While it might not be impossible for a small group of twelve to have a vision or even an optical illusion of a risen Jesus, this would be impossible with as large a group as five hundred.

Paul gives another convincing proof: Jesus also appeared to James. James is Jesus’ half-brother, who did not believe in Him until after the resurrection. He grew up in the same home with Jesus, but he rejected Him until after Jesus rose from the dead. After his encounter with the resurrected Christ, James became the leader of the Jerusalem church. What another great reminder that God is a God of grace.

The people that Paul mentions were living too close to the time of Christ’s resurrection to effectively deny it. They simply could not explain away this great historical event any more than a person today can effectively deny the reality of the Holocaust. There are people today who try to deny the Holocaust, but they don’t get very far because there are still too many survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. In 1981, 10,000 of these survivors held a four-day gathering in Jerusalem. In an interview, Ernest Michael, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, held up his hands and said, “These hands have carried off (for burial) more corpses than I care to remember. And some say that the Holocaust never happened! We know; we were there!”

Likewise, the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote were living far closer to the time of Christ’s resurrection than the people who met in Jerusalem in 1981 were to the Holocaust they survived. You and I, of course, are almost 2,000 years away from the resurrection. We can’t talk to eyewitnesses like the people to whom Paul originally wrote his letter. Nevertheless, we have the testimony of Scripture and plenty of changed lives.

Since this is the resurrection chapter, it is appropriate to touch quickly upon Paul’s notion of death. In 15:6, Paul states that some of the believers who witnessed Jesus “have fallen asleep.” The verb translated “sleep” (koimao) is often used in the Bible as a euphemism for death when speaking of believers. This metaphorical usage by its very nature emphasizes the hope of resurrection: Believers will one day “wake up” out of death. Unbelievers “die”; believers “fall asleep.”  Death: separation. A Christian does not die, we fall asleep, and we turn over from one world to another world. We are alive! An unbeliever dies because he is going to where God does not exist. Death is not having the life of God in you.

In 15:8, Paul also refers to himself as “one untimely born.” The Greek term here is the word for a miscarriage or an abortion. Paul means that spiritually speaking he was like an aborted fetus or a stillborn child. He is referring to his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever and persecutor of the church. Before his call and conversion, Paul was spiritually dead but he was miraculously given life through God’s grace. This image fits the theme running through the chapter of God’s power giving life to the dead. Like Paul, though, when you believe in Christ what goes down must come up.

[Paul has hammered home his point that the gospel is trustworthy. Now he will demonstrate that…]

  1. The gospel is life-changing(15:9-11). Paul explains that the proof of the gospel is its inherent power to change lives. He will demonstrate this by sharing three characteristics. First, the gospel leads to the recognition of sin. In 15:9, Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” All of the others to whom Christ appeared were believers, whereas Paul was a violent hateful unbeliever. He chased down the early Christians and sought to have them incarcerated or even killed. As a result, Paul never ceased to be amazed that, of all people, Christ would have appeared to him. I don’t think a dream about Jesus could ever have produced the kind of humble assessment of himself that Paul came to. It took a direct encounter with the living Lord, the very person he had rejected, to help him see his sorry state. Here, Paul called himself “the least of the apostles.” Elsewhere he labeled himself “the foremost” of sinners (1 Tim 1:15) and “the very least of all the saints” (Eph 3:8). Paul understood that apart from Christ, he was nothing. Like Paul, do you see and feel your own sin? Do you grieve over your sin? Are you more concerned about working on your sin instead of other’s sin? It is so easy to be consumed with the sin of others (e.g., spouse, children, boss, neighbors), yet a mark of godliness is a concern with your own sin.

Second, the gospel results in a total transformation of character. In 15:10a, Paul writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” Paul may have been a mess when Jesus found him, but Christ didn’t leave him that way. Because of God’s mercy and grace Paul became a great missionary, preacher, and theologian. It is only the one who has experienced the power of the resurrection in his life who can experience such a thorough transformation in character and then give the credit to God.

I love the phrase, “I am what I am.” I grew up watching Popeye, who used a similar phrase, “I yam what I yam.” When Popeye eats his spinach, he becomes strong. When you and I eat up grace, we become strong. Popeye had to take his spinach. He had to open the can, gobble it down, and do his thing! Similarly, you and I must do the very same thing. We need to gobble up grace and let God empower us to accomplish His work in and through us.

Lastly, the gospel produces a redirection of one’s entire life. In 15:10b-11, Paul writes, “…but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” In response to God’s grace, Paul worked harder than everyone else. Paul does not believe, however, that he is repaying the divine grace shown to him with hard work. Rather, Paul is like a child who joyfully gives his mom a birthday present after having spent the parents’ own money to buy it.

All of Paul’s effort and energy was bound up in God’s grace. In the same way, we are saved by grace and we minister by grace. “Grace” is mentioned three times in 15:10. In a general sense, the word “grace” means “an undeserved expression of kindness.” Grace therefore is in the expression of the kindness of God that is given to those who do not deserve it. That involves not only the initial grace of salvation but every other expression of undeserved help we ever received from the Lord. Don’t let this point escape you.

In 15:11, Paul now reprises what he wrote in 15:1. “We preach” includes all of the apostles, and the present tense conveys that it continues to be their message. Christ’s resurrection is the common denominator on which all are in accord. It is the nonnegotiable and cannot be jettisoned without gutting the Christian faith. What comes down must go up.

Your physical body that God brought into this world needs to be taken out of this world. What comes down must go up. Jesus Christ died, was buried, arose, and was seen. Since Jesus Christ came down, He must go back up. The same is true for every believer in Christ. Your body awaits physical resurrection. One day you will be given a glorified body, you will stand before Jesus Christ, and you will be made like Him (1 John 3:2). In the meanwhile, God asks you and me to live in the light of that day.

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Order in the church

  1. Tools and Rules (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) Order in the church!

Raising three children is no easy job. After reading Buddy Scott’s book, Relief for Hurting Parents, we adopted several rules that worked for our parenting style:

“If you want more, pay the extra” had the most impact on our kids.

Other rules: 1. I will not hit, kick, pinch, or squeeze any person with the intention of hurting or annoying them. 2. I will not throw anything in anger. 3. I will not look over my parents’ head in rebellion when they are speaking to me. 4. I will not say “blah, blah, blah” (or any such talk) when a parent is instructing me. 5. I will obey when sent to do something without stomping, screaming, kicking, whining, wailing, or arguing. 6. I will not yell to be obnoxious, loud, or rude. 7. I will not make obscene noises in public. 8. I will not interrupt or talk over someone else when they are speaking. 9. I will not wear outdoor shoes on the carpet. 10. I will keep all body parts (hands, feet, etc.) off the walls. 11. I will not leave lights on after leaving a room. 12. I will not flip light switches on and off, on and off, on and off.

The purpose of this list of rules is to turn chaos into order, confusion into peace. In order to remain sane, I would suggest that every family adopt their own personal “house rules.” Like a good parent, Paul communicates his “house rules.” He insists that there must be order in the church. If chaos and confusion reign supreme, worship will not build up the body of Christ. While worship can be creative and free, it still needs to be orderly. In 1 Cor 14:26-40, Paul cries out, “Order in the Church.” In the course of these fifteen verses, Paul shares two directives that will help us maintain order in the church.

  1. Pursue order in worship (14:26-33a). In this section, Paul tells us how to have an orderly worship service. He begins with a general principle in 14:26: “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” The first expression in this verse, “What is the outcome then?” is one of Paul’s typical methods of summing up a discussion before moving on to the next section. Before he concludes this topic of spiritual gifts, he wants to give a general perspective on their use in the worship setting. His counsel is for all of God’s people to come prepared to participate. When the house churches in Corinth met for worship, it was normal for everyone to come ready to contribute. Some would bring a song they had written, some a teaching, some a revelation (“God impressed on my heart this week that we should do such-and-such . . .”), and some a tongue or an interpretation. These five gifts are not exhaustive; Paul is merely saying that he longs for God’s people to come to church ready to build up the body. God says, “Order in the Church!”

Paul concludes 14:26 with a command: “Let all things be done for edification.” The gifts that manifest themselves during worship must be done for the strengthening of the church. The corporate worship service is not a time for self-edification, showing off, or entertainment. It is a time for edification or strengthening of the body. Church is not about the individual, it is about the body.

The principle here is: the Christian must come to receive and to give. There can be no passive listeners. When you come to church, is this your mentality? Do you come to participate or to spectate? Historically, the church has usually grown the fastest in small, informal fellowships. These may be fledgling “church plants” or small groups within larger more established congregations. The church grows in health and size when people recognize their spiritual gifts and get involved. Do you know your gift? How are you presently using your gift in the body?

Paul now moves from the general principle to specific guidelines. In 14:27-28, Paul provides regulations on how tongues should manifest themselves in the corporate worship service. He writes, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.” Here are Paul’s rules for speaking in tongues:

  • No more than three, preferably two, should speak in tongues in a given service.
  • Only one person should speak in tongues at a time.

No one should speak unless an interpreter is present and identified. “He is to be silent” is a command. A tongue speaker can control his gift. The interpreter can be the tongue speaker (cf. 14:13). The reason I add that the interpreter must be identified is that 14:28 says, “If there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church.” Before one speaks in a tongue he must know there is an interpreter, not just hope there is one. Of course, if there is no interpreter present the tongues speaker doesn’t have to stifle his or her gift, he or she simply must use it silently: “let him speak to himself and to God.” God says, “Order in the Church!”

One church’s rules on tongues:

  • There will be no audible tongues in public church meetings. This goes back to the problem of uninterpreted tongues and their ability to build up worship.
  • In small groups or adult fellowships, ask permission and consider who is present. If there is no interpretation, then the leader should graciously state, “The Lord has no word for us at this time, but we encourage you to exercise your gifts. We know that He will speak at another time.”

After providing regulations on tongues, Paul now offers some restrictions on prophecy as well. In 14:29-32, Paul writes, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” Paul’s rules on prophecy are as follows:

  • Limit prophesying to two or three speakers. The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure!
  • The church is to weigh carefully what is said. Certainly, when prophecy is taken to include Spirit-filled preaching, it seems clear that the ordinary “layperson” is often in a better position to determine how well or accurately the preacher has communicated than are fellow-preachers, who are absorbed in the fine points of the theology or technique of the message. The word used here is diakrino, meaning “to evaluate carefully.” Sometimes this could take days. A prophecy might be controversial, and the elders may need some time of prayer to determine its validity. See 1 Thess 5:21; 1 John 4:1.
  • One prophecy at a time. Prophesying is to be done in turn. If one person desires to speak, he or she should be given the floor. Paul made clear that there was to be no speaking over another person’s words. If this control is lost, a prophecy is not of God. Paul declares that people can control themselves and that a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence is order and courtesy. The entire purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort.
  • We do not know why Paul includes this instruction, for it would seem to show disrespect both for the person who is prophesying and for the spiritual revelation that individual has received. Perhaps the reason for this notation is that Corinth had a problem with certain people monopolizing “prophecy time.” Since Paul insists that all may prophesy one by one (not in the same worship service, of course), it is only fair that everyone who has this gift should receive the opportunity to exercise it at one time or another. God says, “Order in the Church!”

 

consider one church’s rules on prophecy:

  • If you think God has given you a word for someone, go to that person rather than to others. Many experienced leaders estimate that 80% of prophecies are for one other person; therefore, rarely are they a message for the entire body.
  • Introduce what you have said with, “It seems to me” or “I feel impressed to say.” Then end that comment with, “Does this make any sense to you?” or “I don’t know what it means, but I believe it is for you.” There is no place in the church for the person who says, “God told me such-and-such and you need to follow me.” A person can legitimately say, “I believe God wants us to do such-and-such,” or “I have a very strong impression that God wants us to do such-and-such,” but he has no right to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” unless, of course, he can show us in the Bible where the Lord really said it. Every prophecy given in the church is subject to evaluation—careful weighing—by the mature believers in the body.
  • If the message is for the church, deliver a message to the pastor in private. If the pastor believes it is of God, he will deliver it. If he cannot decide, then the elders will need to hear it.

 

Paul concludes this section in 14:33a by sharing a crucial principle worth bearing in mind: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” Paul wants the procedures in the worship setting not to be disruptive but to be orderly. He has already stated one reason for this principle, namely, that unbelievers will be turned off to the church if there is pandemonium through a free-for-all exercise of tongues (14:22-25). But there is another reason: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” Orderly worship reflects the character of God. God says, “Order in the Church!”[Paul has said that we are to pursue order in the worship service. Now he will also say…]

  1. Respect God-ordained authority (14:33b-40). In this section, Paul will provide a number of thoughts on how we can respect the authority that God has put in place. In 14:33b-35, he begins with a very sticky wicket. Again, Paul will bring up the issue of women in ministry. I spoke in some detail on the place of women in the church a while ago, when we were studying1 Corinthians 11, and I’d rather not go back to that subject. (I survived it once; I don’t want to push my luck.) I would simply say that I do not think that 14:34-35 are a blanket denial to women of a public ministry in the church. In chapter 11, Paul clearly acknowledged that under certain situations a woman may pray or prophesy. Here he writes, “As in all the churches of the saints. The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” The phrase, “As in all the churches of the saints” belongs with 14:34-35. It is customary for Paul to reinforce his teaching by saying that it is common practice among all the churches. The Greek verb translated “to be silent” (sigao) does not mean no speaking whatsoever in the local church. There are always contextual limitations on the word. The restriction may be temporal or topical. In the case of the former, someone is to be silent while someone else is speaking. In the case of the latter, the one who is silent does not speak in a certain manner or on a certain topic, but he or she can speak in other ways and on other issues. Thus, Paul is restricting speech designed to critique prophetic utterances, but would not prohibit other forms of verbal participation. Paul is forbidding women to speak in church only in regard to the judgment or evaluation of prophetic utterances. Evidently, he believed that this entailed an exercise of authority restricted to men only.

The word “subject” was a military term describing the chain of command. It is used of Jesus and is a universal truth for the church. All of God’s people are to practice biblical submission. In this context, Paul commands women to respect the God-ordained authority of their husbands. What sort of situation might produce a challenge between the views of husbands and wives? One of two seem probable, both connected with prophecy (which is the immediate context of this section). Since both men and women could prophesy (cf. 11:4-5), it is not impossible that a husband and wife might say different or even contradictory things, and this could lead to an argument in front of the rest of the church body. Or if when one prophet spoke and the church evaluated what was said (14: 29), once again a husband and wife could end up in an open, public disagreement as to the content of that prophecy. This Paul would consider disgraceful, and it would damage the witness of the church to the culture around them.

This view explains Paul’s appeal to “the Law” (i.e., the Old Testament) in 14:34. The Old Testament does not teach that women are to remain silent at all times in worship. But it does endorse male headship in the home and in worship, consistent with Paul’s teaching here and elsewhere. Paul is thinking about Gen 2:18-25 (cf. 11:8-9). Man was created first. Then the woman was created to be a helpmate for him. It was in that order, not the other way around. In a matter of authority, the woman’s authority over creation involves her own being under the authority of male leadership.

Now we turn to Paul’s conclusion of his study on gifts with a call to focus on the Word of God as the norm for critiquing spiritual gifts. In these closing verses, Paul is drawing this entire section to a close (12:1-14:35). In 14:36, Paul writes, “Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?” The two questions that Paul asks in 14:36 both expect a “no” answer. Paul is seeking to humble the arrogant Corinthians.

Paul now drives home the point of his argument. It is short and not necessarily sweet. An imperative appears in each verse. In 14:37-38, Paul writes, “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” Paul gives what can be read as a stern warning: anyone who ignores the advice/command he has just given will not be recognized as a leader. Moreover, God will ignore these individuals and accomplish His work without them.

Paul is now ready to sum up this lengthy section. In 14:39, he writes, “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” Again, we should desire prophecy and refuse to forbid tongues. However, tongues operate best in a small group context. In such a venue, believers know one another. Ideally, each member of the group knows the other members’ spiritual gifts. Hence, if someone has the gift of interpretation, there is freedom to speak in tongues. Furthermore, there needs to be balance on this matter of speaking in tongues. Many Christians error in extremes: everyone speaks in tongues or no one speaks in tongues. The whole focus of this chapter, I believe, has been to discourage the public use of tongues. In fact, the three principal positive statements in the chapter are each followed by the word “but.”

  • 14:5: “I wish you all spoke in tongues, but…”
  • 14:18: “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; but…”
  • 14:39: “Do not forbid to speak in tongues, but…”

 

In each of the above examples the “but” introduces concerns for the church at worship. Our worship will focus on the Word of God, will be decent and orderly, and will follow the biblical guidelines on tongues.

I’ve always wanted to be able to roll my tongue. Others in my family can. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t. It’s not within my skill-set. I’m not gifted. The same is true with the gift of tongues. I don’t believe the Bible teaches that everyone can speak in tongues. Even though I have sought the gift, the Lord has not seen fit to give me this gift. But this allows me to truly appreciate those who have been given the gift.

Paul’s final words in this section sum up all of his concerns: “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (14:40). The word “order” is a military term for falling in rank. Paul only uses this word in one other context and it is translated “stability or firmness.” When the body of Christ functions the way it should, there will be a sense of firmness.

I don’t know about you but I am a sucker for infomercials, particularly those advertising a new piece of exercise equipment. If I wasn’t such a shrewd steward, I would be tempted to buy up every new invention to build firm muscles. After all, everyone loves firm muscles, right?

Well, God says the way to firm muscles in His body is order. “Order in the Church.” Yet, He balances this with the exercise of His Holy Spirit. The greatest church growth tool is God’s presence. If people experience God’s presence in worship, they will come back, they will tell their friends, they will long for it. It’s all here—conviction of sin, a dissection of the heart, and awareness of God’s presence. God wants His church to come together and experience all that He has for her. Will you be a part of all that God wants to do?

The Seven Bible Tests of a True Prophet

Introduction: Num. 12:6 “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, [I] the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, [and] will speak unto him in a dream.”

Often God uses dreams and visions to reveal His will to mankind.

Test # 1) Isa. 8:20. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, [it is] because [there is] no light in them.”

The “law” here is a reference to the “Law of Moses,” the first five books of the Old Testament, which also contain the Ten Commandments law, and “testimony” is a reference to the rest of the Old Testament, and by extension including the New Testament, which also contains the “testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17), that both together explain what the “Law of Moses” means in mankind’s practical experience.

True prophet’s sayings are totally consistent with all that the Holy Spirit has already revealed in Scripture.

Test #2) Jer. 23:14. “I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness.  v.16, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, [and] not out of the mouth of the LORD.”

True prophets will reprove other prophet’s sins, rather than conspire to support one-another’s claims.

Test #3) Jer. 28:9. “The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, [then] shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.”

True prophet’s predictions must come to pass, ALL of them.

Test #4) Mt. 7:15. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. … Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. …Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

True prophets lead people to repentance and humility before God, and to love their fellow humans. They never lead people to become competitive, prideful or self-exalting.

Test #5) 1 Jn. 4:2. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:”  (See also Hebrews 4:15. Jesus “was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.”)

True prophets confess that Jesus came in our “fallen” human flesh, yet He got the victory over every sin and all sin, just as we can, through connection with His Father and our Father.

Test #6) Dan. 10:17. “For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me.”

True prophets have no strength or breath of their own while in vision, but supernatural strength from God.

Test #7) Jn. 1:15. “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.”

True prophets exalt Christ alone, but never their own abilities.

 

The right kind of prophets

You may have noticed that e-mail is today’s mode of communication. Yet, e-mail is not always the best form of communication. It is easy to be misunderstood even by people we know quite well. While the sender understands the intent of his or her words, the recipient may not have the same degree of perception. Furthermore, the recipient can read into the e-mail ideas that were never intended. This should cause all of us to carefully read our e-mails and pause before we respond and hit the send button.

Likewise, reading a letter to a church that was written 2,000 years ago can be a challenging endeavor. It is easy to misunderstand the author’s intent and what was taking place in the life of the church. Often, God’s people jump to conclusions before carefully studying a biblical passage. This should give us cause to pause. Have we been guilty of this? Naturally, we all have. Therefore, our aim must be to understand the words of Scripture in the way God intended. We must try not to read our own traditions, preferences, or experiences into God’s Word. This is especially important when it comes to the controversial areas of worship and spiritual gifts.

Perhaps you have wondered what the Bible teaches about what a church worship service should look like. In the next two weeks, we will be examining 1 Corinthians 14 and we will learn that a church worship service is to be both intelligible and orderly. Today, we will be looking at 1 Cor 14:1-25 where Paul will confidently state put your ministry where your mouth is. In this passage, he provides two principles to guide us in our corporate worship.

  1. Clear communication in the church is critical(14:1-19). Paul will tell us that prophecy and tongues are important spiritual gifts; however, he will insist that the gift of prophecy is particularly significant. In 14:1, Paul discloses his thesis: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” First and foremost, Paul commands the church to pursue, strive for, and seek after love. This command “pursue” (dioko) means “to pursue or persecute.” It is a strong word that serves to remind us that love can be an elusive thing. In other words, we do not find love by wishful thinking or by halfhearted effort. We have to pursue it eagerly every day if we are going to find it operating in our lives as it should. As a church, if we make love our top pursuit we will discover that our capacity to minister to those around us grows with every passing year.

After commanding the church to pursue love, Paul then commands the church to “desire earnestly” spiritual gifts, particularly prophecy. To prophesy is “to proclaim divine revelation” or “to speak on behalf of God.” Prophecy is not preaching or teaching, but it has elements of both. It can be both spontaneous and prepared. Throughout the entirety of chapter 14, Paul suggests that all God’s people can exercise prophecy. When we gather for worship, we ought to pray that the Lord will give us a word for someone in the church (cf. 14:26). Hence, we all come to church to minister. Put your ministry where your mouth is.

Apparently, the Corinthian church had exalted the gift of tongues above the prophetic gift of the proclamation of truth, and what Paul wants to do in this chapter is restore a healthy balance to the public worship life of that congregation. Hence, in 14:2-5 he compares and contrasts these two gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying. In doing so, he explains why he prefers prophecy over tongues. “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.” There are four observations that are worth noting in these four verses.

  • First, Paul has a high view of speaking in tongues and considers it a viable spiritual gift. Some are critical of tongues because of its divisive nature; however, the only problem with tongues is when Christians abuse this gift and behave in an immature and prideful way. Tongues is a good gift that God has given His church for its edification. The problem is never one of any spiritual gift, but rather of those who misunderstand and misuse what God has graciously provided.
  • Second, the gift of tongues that Paul is referring to in this context is a private prayer language. Paul writes that he would like to see all the Corinthians inspired by the Spirit to speak in tongues, but presumably only in the privacy of their own homes. Moreover, Paul knows that not everyone will be given this gift (see 12:28-30).
  • Third, the gift of prophecy is for today (see 1 Thess 5:19-22). Not in the sense of authoritative, inerrant revelation from God, but as a word of “edification, exhortation, and consolation” (14:3). The words prophet, prophecies, prophesy, and prophesying are used over 200 times in the New Testament. The whole notion of prophecy and prophesying is a big part of the New Testament. It’s not a minor doctrine. It’s a major teaching of the New Testament.
  • Fourth, Paul’s primary concern in this passage is the edification of the body. Four times in these verses a form of the word “edify” is used. This is the foremost reason why spiritual gifts were given to us (see 12:7). It is important to note that Paul is not being critical of tongue speakers edifying themselves. He is not opposed to edifying oneself. This is one reason we come to church on Sunday. When we exercise our spiritual gifts, we edify ourselves as well. Nevertheless, there is a double meaning to the word “edify” in this context. Since arrogance was such a problem in the church at Corinth, it seems that some were getting puffed up over their use of tongues. However, Paul’s wish that everyone would speak in tongues is still a genuine desire. Nevertheless, in public worship, we should only have what builds up the church. Edification is the benchmark by which we measure what goes on in public worship.

In 14:6-12, Paul explains the problem with interpreted tongues: no one benefits from something that he or she cannot understand. Paul shares the main idea of this section in 14:6 when he writes, “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?” Paul wants to be sure that what occurs in the worship service is profitable for all who are in attendance. Thus, he emphasizes gifts of clear communication. Paul wants everything to be done for edification. Put your ministry where your mouth is.

In 14:7-11, Paul gives three analogies that expound on the necessity of intelligibility in the church. First, Paul uses the metaphor of musical instruments. In order to be understood or appreciated musical instruments must play a discernible melody. In 14:7, Paul writes, “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?” Paul cites the flute and harp, two of the common musical instruments of his day. The point he makes is: if the musician does not give a clear distinction between the notes on whatever instrument is being played, the people will not understand the tune.

The second metaphor comes from the field of battle. Bugle calls to battle must be clear enough for soldiers to distinguish “Advance!” from “Retreat!” In 14:8, Paul writes, “For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” Trumpets or bugles were often used to summon people to battle or to give a signal for when to charge the enemy or when to stop fighting because the battle was over. Presumably there were different note patterns for each command. But if the trumpeter sounded either an unclear note pattern or a muffled sound so that the soldiers could not clearly distinguish what was being played, they would become confused and not know what they were supposed to do.

The third and final metaphor explains that foreign languages remain unintelligible to those who have not learned them. In 14:9-11, Paul writes, “So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian [i.e., foreigner], and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.” The one who speaks in tongues without interpreting is speaking into the air. In basketball, a player that misses a shot hears the chant “air ball…air ball!” Similarly, the person who blurts out a tongue in worship without an interpreter could hear the chant “air talk…air talk!” It is important to understand that these verses merely serve as an illustration. Paul is not saying here that the gift of tongues in this context is a foreign language. He is simply trying to say that tongues must be interpreted or they are of no value to those who can’t interpret. Applying all three of these illustrations, Paul says that it is not the mere sound of speaking that is important, but whether the sounds can be understood by the hearers.

This paragraph concludes in 14:12 with a summary statement: “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.” Paul again commands the church to seek those gifts that will build up the body, particularly prophecy.

In 14:13-19, Paul provides the solution to the problem of interpreted tongues. The question is: what must a person do if God has given him or her the gift of tongues? Paul puts it like this: “Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Paul exhorts those who speak in tongues to pray that they will be able to interpret their own tongues and those of others. He then explains that he prays and sings in his native language and his prayer language. He seeks to experience the best of both worlds—the spirit and the mind. Yet, he is still sensitive to ensure that during the worship event, people understand what is happening. So even though Paul is an avid tongue speaker, out of consideration for others he leaves his prayer language at home.

[Paul has spent a great deal of ink telling us that clear communication in the church is critical. Now he shares a second principle…]

  1. Mature thinking in the church is critical(14:20-25). In these final six verses, Paul informs the church that he seeks maturity in public worship. Paul begins in 14:20 by saying, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.” Paul wants the Corinthians to stop thinking like selfish and prideful children with regards to the gifts. He does state though that they should be naïve infants with regards to evil. Paul urges the church to think like a mature believer in the worship context.

In 14:21-25, Paul explains why spiritual maturity and self-control is so important in a corporate worship service. First, Paul cites a prophecy from Isa 28:11-12 (cf. Deut 28:49) and writes, “In the Law it is written, ‘BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,’ says the Lord.” The point of this Old Testament quotation is that if Israel would not hear the Lord through the prophets, they would not hear even when He spoke in foreign languages to them through foreign people. So, Paul is saying, why put so much stress on tongues?

Paul then writes, “So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.” This is a very confusing verse because it says the very opposite of what we would expect Paul to say. I believe this verse is best put as a rhetorical question rather than as a statement (cf. 7:1): “So, then, are tongues a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, and prophecy a sign not for unbelievers but for believers?” To this question Paul would answer a resounding “No!” In his mind, tongues is a sign for believers and prophecy is a sign for unbelievers.

Paul then concludes in 14:23-25 with these words: “Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” The effect of Christian prophecy on the unbeliever is threefold: He will be convicted of sin (cf. John 16:8); he will be called to take account of his sins and examine his sinful condition; and he will have his sinful heart and past laid open to inspection (cf. John 4:16-19). The triple use of “all” in 14:24 emphasizes that all the church through its prophetic message has, in God’s providence, a part in bringing the unbeliever to this place of conviction. For the unbeliever in the church service will recognize that God really is present and dealing with him.

Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? Regardless of what cola you prefer, I think you can acknowledge (possibly under duress) that these colas are more similar than dissimilar. It really comes down to issues of flavor. Unfortunately, people seem to care a great deal about flavor. I heard about two who liked Coke and Pepsi and came to blows. At a Wal-Mart in Pennsylvania, a Coke deliveryman and Pepsi deliveryman were apparently bickering back and forth while unloading their wares and Mr. Pepsi punched Mr. Coke in the face three times, breaking his nose, and giving him a black eye. All of this over cola flavor!

Similarly, the church of Jesus Christ has been divided over flavor. There are two competing groups: evangelicals and charismatics. Both groups are similar, but they do have a different flavor. Nevertheless, God wants us to move beyond flavor. He is calling us beyond tolerance, beyond even acceptance, into total reconciliation and oneness. He is calling the two halves of the churches back together again, not just to endure one another, but to delight in one another’s uniqueness and profit from it. God is calling us to a higher level of unity than ever before. He is asking us to embrace the full diversity of the body of Christ.

In the eternal state, there will not be any evangelicals or charismatics, there will only be Christians consumed with Jesus. May we bring a taste of heaven down here to earth and experience all that the Lord has for us.