on 1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Here is, I think, a great article on this passage of Scripture in the Enrichment Journal.  It is by my NT professor Ben Aker (now professor emeritus) at AGTS.

Here is an excerpt:

Pentecostals hold two fundamental positions regarding the nature of the gift of tongues based upon 1 Corinthians 14:1–5. One group believes that this gift is addressed to God and involves such things as prayer and/or praise. They believe that the one interpreting tongues should speak a praise or petition addressed to God. Tongues in this instance never contain a “message” to believers. Further, tongues are an inferior gift. W.G. MacDonald, a proponent of this position, recently summarized his view: “Glossolalia is always directed to God, and only to Him. In form,glossolalia is spoken or sung to Him. In content, biblical glossolalia consists of worship or prayer. It consists of praise or petition, thanksgiving or intercession. Because glossolalia is unidirectional to God, it cannot be an oracular utterance. Designed for individual edification, glossolalia when properly interpreted, rests at the bottom of the apostolic scale of gifts benefiting the congregation.”1

The other group believes that, like prophecy, the gift of tongues can also be a message directed to the church when accompanied by the interpretation, and that this gift of tongues is no more inferior than any other gift when appropriately manifested.

I wish to present the case for the latter view in an inductive manner by simply allowing the Bible to speak for itself. First, let us examine the larger context of the relevant passage in 1 Corinthians….

on Spiritual Gifts

spiritual-giftsAndrew Ferris has posted an updated interview he had with Ken Berding on his 2006 book What Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional View (Kregel) that I think is well worth your time to read and consider.  Especially in light of Tim Gombis’ recent post, Disnefying Spiritual Gifts.

What Berding does and Gombis too, is take the whole longstanding notion of what spiritual “gifts” are and turns it on its head!  Traditionally and probably also because of our highly individualistic culture in the West we tend to view view the “gifts” in terms of the individual and in terms of abilities. what can an individual person do with the gifting or abilities the Holy Spirit has given him or her: teach, pastor, faith, knowledge, healing, serving, etc.

Berding re-thinks this conventional view – he turns it on its head.  Instead of a spiritual abilities view it is about ministry – a spiritually empowered ministry.  Consider the following from the interview:

Could you summarize some of the reasons you think the spiritual ministries approach is correct—as opposed to the special abilities approach?

Yes, let me limit my response to ten reasons. If you want to see these explained more fully kenneth_berding(along with other key arguments), you will need to take a look at the book. But these will get you started.

1. Many people assume that the Greek word charisma means special ability. This is a misunderstanding of how words work and confuses the discussion.

2. Paul’s central concern in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12-14—the “spiritual gifts passages”—is that every believer fulfills his or her role in building up the community of faith. That’s what he’s writing about; that’s what he cares about. The Corinthians, not Paul, were the ones who were interested in special abilities.

3. Paul doesn’t use any ability concepts in his extended metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. His illustration is all about the roles—or the ministries—of the various members of the body.

4. The actual activities that Paul lists in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12 can all be described as ministries, but they cannot all be described as abilities.

5. The idea of ministry assignments is a common thread that weaves its way through Paul’s letters. The theme of special abilities is not an important theme in his writings.

6. In approximately 80 percent of Paul’s one hundred or so lists, he places a word or phrase that indicates the nature of the list in the immediate context. There are such indicators in all four of Paul’s lists. This is significant because indicators such as the words appointed, functions, and equipping instruct us that we must read these lists as ministries.

7. When Paul uses the words grace and given together, he’s discussing ministry assignments—either his own or those of others—in the immediate context. This combination appears in two of the three chapters that include ministry lists.

8. Paul talks in detail about his own ministry assignments and suggests that, just as he had received ministry, all believers have also received ministry assignments.

9. The spiritual-abilities view suggests that service should flow out of our strengths; Paul says that sometimes—though not always—we’re called to minister out of weakness. The weakness theme in Paul’s letters does not work with the idea of spiritual gifts as strengths.

10. Neither Paul nor any other New Testament author ever encourages people to try to discover their special abilities; nor is there any example of any New Testament character who embarked on such a quest.

There you have it.  You can read on to learn more but I think this is a much needed paradigm shift in thinking about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of both the believer and the believing community, the People of God.  I am not sure where Berding stands on the issue but I see this as a highly egalitarian view not just of the gifts (keeps individuals from being elevated over others) but of ministry in general.  It really does put service back into the purpose and intent of the ministries of the Spirit.  Helps to downplay the “disnefying of gifts” to take this view.  This is good stuff!

Dave Black’s Paul, Apostle of Weakness

is now up on Amazon.  Here is a snippet from Chapter 5 that he posted on his blog:

In another vein, Paul can also use the words in several instances in the specific sense of bodily weakness, i.e., physical illness, thus approximating the fundamental usage common to all literature in antiquity. He clearly uses the root for sickness with reference to Epaphroditus (Phil 2:26-27), Timothy (1 Tim 5:23), and Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20), his close companions in the gospel ministry. Paul probably uses the root for sickness with reference to himself when he speaks of an “infirmity of the flesh” as the cause for his initial preaching of the gospel among the Galatians (Gal 4:13).

If we are correct in concluding that Paul is referring to a physical infirmity, we can think of this weakness as a particular disease or ailment, the specific diagnosis of which is, however, a mystery. Cases of illness among Christians in NT times indicate that the apostolic commission to heal (cf. Mark 16:18) could not be effected indiscriminately to heal oneself or one’s friends. Normal means of healing were available for Timothy’s gastric problem, for instance; and even in the company of Paul Trophimus became too ill to travel any further.

The classical Pauline passage on illness (2 Cor 12:7-10) is in this respect most striking of all, in that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” remained with the apostle despite even the most intensive prayer for its removal. Paul states three reasons for its existence: to keep him from becoming proud because of his revelations and visions (v. 7); to enable him to experience the power of Christ (v. 9); and to teach him the true purpose of hardships, persecutions, and personal difficulties (v. 10). Indeed, the entire passage is concerned more with the power and grace of the Lord than with the weakness of the apostle. Physical infirmity is evidence that the body “is sown in weakness” (1 Cor 15:43) and is a cogent reminder of the creature’s dependence upon the Creator. In this respect, the case of Paul is remarkably like that of Jacob, who learned to depend totally upon God only after he had been inflicted with a physical injury (Gen 32:24–32).

These instances of illness show that the real issue in the matter of human suffering is our relationship to God rather than our own physical condition, as painful as it may be.

Dave is going through a difficult time right now with his wife Becky being so ill and in the hospital (all this you can read about on his blog)m he doesn’t just write this stuff, he lives it – be lifting them up in prayer and show your support and encouragement to him by buying a book and sharing about it on your own blog!

Spiritual Ministries

Here is a post from Dec 9, 2005 (while I was still at AGTS):

Heard something new the other day at my professor’s house.  Spiritual gifts should not be called “gifts” but instead “ministries.”  The term spiritual gifts no longer seems to be appropriate because of widespread misuse of the gifts.  Too often they are used for selfish means instead of the benefit of others.  Well, perhaps they may be called gifts but their function in the body of Christ is ministerial.  The Spirit of God “gifts” us to minister to the body and to individuals, but even then, the “gift” is really to the body or the individual who receives the ministry more than the person who mediated the ministry.  Make sense?  God is the giver and the gift of encouragement is give to the person who received the encouragement, not necessarily the one who said the encouraging words.  So, the purpose of the “gifts” is the edification of the body of Christ, not the glorification of the individual.  Amazing stuff huh?  What do y’all think?

Are you passionate for the gospel? (revised)

or for a particular view of the gospel?

(in an effort to avoid giving a snippet of a comment, or in being a drive by blogger – I have included the whole thought to help give clarity to the issue I am wanting to address).

Gordon Fee in his commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NICNT) for the passage 1:12-18a  writes:

It would be easy to dismiss this passage (vv.12-18a) either as anecdotal narrative or as Paul’s simply putting the best possible face on a bad situation. But that would be to miss too much. Paul can write things like this because, first, his theology is in good order. He has learned by the grace of God to see everything from the divine perspective.

This was not wishfulness but deep conviction – that God had worked out his own divine intentions through the death and resurrection of Christ, and they by his Spirit he is carrying them out in the world through the church, and therefore through both himself and others. It is not that Paul is too heavenly minded to be in touch with reality, or that he see things through rosy-tinted glasses.

Rather, he sees everything in light of the bigger picture; and in that bigger picture, fully emblazoned on our screen at Calvary, there is nothing that does not fit, even if it means suffering and death on the way to resurrection. Such theology dominates this letter in every part; we should not be surprised that it surfaces at the outset, even in this brief narrative.

Second, and related to the first, Paul is a man of a single passion: Christ and the gospel. Everything is to be seen and done in the light of Christ. For him both life and death mean Christ. He is the passion of the single minded person who has been “apprehended by Christ,” as he will tell the Philippians in 3:12-14.

Third, Paul’s passion for Christ led him to an understanding of discipleship in which the disciple took up a cross to follow his Lord. Discipleship, therefore, meant “to participate in the sufferings of Christ” (3:10-11), to be ready to be poured out as a drink offering in ministry for the sake of others (2:17). His imprisonment belongs to those trials for which “we are destined” (1 Thess 3:3), and thus come as no surprise.

Interestingly, these three theological realities are what also make for Paul’s largeness of heart. True, he lacks the kind of “largeness” for which religious pluralists contend. Is that because such pluralists have not been “apprehended by Christ” and the gospel, as God’s thing – his only thing – on behalf of our fallen world? Unfortunately, such pluralism often has very little tolerance for the Paul’s of this world. Tolerance seems easier to one’s left than to one’s right!

But in Paul’s case, it is his theological convictions that lead both to his theological narrowness, on the one hand, and to his large-heartedness within those convictions, on the other – precisely because he recognizes that gospel for what it is: God’s thing, not his own. And that, it should be added, also stands quite over and against many others who think of themselves as in Paul’s train, but whose passion for the gospel seems all too often a passion for their own “correct” view of things.

At stake for the Philippians – and for us, I would venture – is the admonition finally made explicit in 4:9; to put into practice for ourselves what we *hear* and *see* in Paul, as well as what we have learned and have received by way of his teaching (125-126).

I found the comment I put in bold pretty interesting – so there are those who have a passion for the gospel and then there are those who have a passion for a particular understanding of the gospel?  Is that it?

How complicated does it need to get? In my estimation 1 Corinthians 15 :1-11 seems to give a fair summation:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
(TNIV).

What’s up with those who have “a passion for their own “correct” view of things“?  What ever does he mean? 

Good commentary sale: 1 Corinthians

at the WTS Bookstore!  Yup, I am following Nick’s lead!  🙂  It looks like a good commentary and one that would complement well with Gordon Fee’s now classic work on 1 Corinthians in the NICNT set.

Here is a Publisher’s Description: (just published this month (Nov 2010!))

This thorough commentary presents a coherent reading of 1 Corinthians, taking full account of its Old Testament and Jewish roots and demonstrating Paul’s primary concern for the unity and purity of the church and the glory of God. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s well-informed, careful exegesis touches on an astonishingly wide swath of important yet sensitive issues, reinforcing the letter’s ongoing theological and pastoral significance.

984 Pages  Published November 2010

You can get part of the intro on the product page (all 114 pages!).