Paul starts the topic of “spiritual gifts” in 1Corinthians 12. The Corinthians are confused in thinking that speaking in tongues is the mark of true spirituality. In 1Corinthians 12:1-3, Paul lays the foundation for his argument which will run through 1Corinthians 14.
In this section of the letter, Paul is responding to questions the Corinthians have asked him. In 1Corinthians 11, he begins addressing issues concerning their public gatherings. Now he turns to their perspective on speaking in tongues.
Paul is speaking to a group of believers who are grading and judging each other by whether or not they speak in tongues. Through the next chapters (12-14), Paul makes a series of points to give them perspective on that situation.
12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. – 1Corinthians 12:1-3
- The word “gifts” is not in the Greek text. The translators add it because they think it is implied.
- My translation: “Now concerning spiritual things” or “now concerning manifestations of the spirit.”
- Today the term “spiritual gifts” has become a technical term with a specific theology behind it. I think it’s a mistake to read the modern understanding into this section.
- The phrase “spiritual gift(s)” occurs once in the New Testament in Romans 1:11-12. There Paul is clearly not talking about our modern understanding.
12:2You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.
- The Gentile Corinthians’ concept of spirituality was formed by growing up in pagan temples.
- Priests and worshipers in pagan temples drank wine and danced themselves dizzy until the were “led away” by the temple-god and babbled incoherently. The Gentile Corinthians expect a similar experience in Christian worship, something like tongues.
- Paul’s addressing that question: Is that true? Are tongues really the mark of being a spiritual person? If not, what’s the nature of spirituality?
12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
- Paul says you can tell a spiritual person by what comes out of their mouths. BUT it’s not ecstatic utterances. The spiritual person will say and mean that Jesus is Lord.
- The mark of a spiritual person is how he/she responds to Jesus.
- The mark of the Spirit of God at work in our lives is not what kind of ecstatic outward experience we have.
- The mark of the Spirit of God at work in our lives is that we say and mean in a profound way that Jesus is Lord.
What does it mean to say “Jesus is Lord”?
- Jesus is Lord is a shorthand for the specific beliefs that make up the gospel.
- The gospel is sometimes summarized as Jesus is Lord and God demonstrated that by raising him from the dead (Romans 10:9; Acts 2:36).
- When I come to faith, I realize that I have been created by God, God has the right to tell me what is true and to determine my destiny.
- God appointed the Christ (Messiah) to represent Him and to proclaim the truth and the way to find life.
- The Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. I know this because God raised him from the dead.
- What Jesus Christ said is true. His teaching is the truth I have to follow. His words are the words of life. He is the one who has the power to forgive my sins and grant me eternal life. He is the one who has the power to judge and condemn me. His commands will set the course of my life. He is the one I will worship and obey.
- To say Jesus is Lord is to look at the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth and say I believe he is the Messiah. He is the one who speaks for God. If I want to find eternal life, he is the one I must listen to.
- Paul is speaking to a group of believers who are grading and judging each other by whether or not they speak in tongues.
- Because of their pagan background, the Corinthians think that the mark of spirituality – the mark that the Holy Spirit is at work in a someone’s life – is that speaking in tongues.
- Paul says, the mark of a truly spiritual person is the person who can say and mean in a profound way that Jesus is Lord.
- Spirituality for Paul is very specific. It is not necessarily flashy outward ecstatic utterances.
- It is not a feeling I have after singing the right songs.
- It is not the feelings I have after a motivational sermon or devotional talk.
- It is not vague mystical feelings I get when I meditate on God’s word.
- It is not marked by social justice causes or giving away lots of money to worthy causes.
- It is not marked by my choice of profession or my lack of material things.
- It is not even being a good, nice person.
- For Paul to be a spiritual person is to be someone who can say and mean in a profound way that Jesus is Lord.
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