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1 Corinthians 14:1-25 Gifts and Ministries of the Holy Spirit Part III

June 1st, 2009

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What are your expectations when meeting with the church – at a zone meeting, in small group, on a Sunday? How do you prepare yourself? Our expectations will inevitably affect the outcome of these events.

Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth is instructive when it comes to key principles and goals for when we meet as the people of God. He puts them right on a few things and in chapter 14 he looks specifically at the public use of the gifts of tongues and prophecy.

A central idea of Paul’s is that each member of the gathered church shares the privilege of carrying and conducting the presence of God and his many gifts. This adds enormous potential to what happens when we gather. It also goes directly against a religious consumer culture (persisting in the west) whereby we come to church to be entertained – and evaluate each meeting by whether kept us sufficiently amused.

In all of this we need to apply the biblical principles fittingly for different kinds of meetings. A meeting of several hundred will be different in many ways from meeting of around one hundred (e.g. a Zone meeting). This is not to say that we don’t look for the gifts of the Spirit from the congregation on a Sunday – but that we will be slightly more front-led by in a larger meeting. The meeting needs to be just as spirit-led (and with anointed people leading, this is more than likely).

There are two major concerns for Paul in dealing with the Corinthians and their use of the gifts:

1. Build up the Body. This theme is repeated almost obsessively in our chapter. Paul is determined that the Corinthian believers contribute spiritual gifts to their gatherings with the appropriate motives. And in Paul’s case the over-riding goal for all contributors must be the glorifying of Jesus and the building up of the body (and the best way to do the latter is to do the former!)

The Corinthians had fallen into the error of speaking in tongues publically – more as a ‘spiritual stunt’ than out of any desire to build other up. The only things being built up were the spiritual egos of the people dominating the meetings. Paul is telling them to serve the body and keep Jesus the focus – this cannot be done if we are busy setting ourselves up as something special in a church meeting.

2. Connect the Newcomer. The terrible spin-off from the ‘Corinth’s Got Talent’ approach to spiritual gifts was that non-Christians in the meetings were completely confused and switched off. They would leave, deciding the church was off its head – and thereby bring judgement upon itself (this is the meaning of the Isaiah quote and the strange idea of tongues as a ‘sign for unbelievers’ – it means a sign of judgement.) For Paul, the intelligibility of the gifts of the Spirit was as important as their use. It was no good, as far as he was concerned, for Christians to have meetings where wackiness goes on unchecked, jargon is never explained and non-Christians are made to feel like unwelcome aliens. For Paul, being good at welcoming newcomers and helping them understand the word and the Spirit – so that they could come to see that God is real (v.25) was simply being like Jesus. (1 Corinthians 10.32-11.1).

These are essential things to take on board as we continue to grow and excel in the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 12:1-10 Gifts & Ministries of the Holy Spirit Part II

April 27th, 2009

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The book of Romans is the closest we get in the Bible to a single explanation of God’s plan of salvation. It starts in chapter 1 with dark comments on the way things went wrong for the human race. Having been made to worship God, men and women turned instead to the worship of created things. The result was foolishness and darkness (Romans 1:21-23).

Well, chapters 2-11 explain how God wins. Through the work of his son Jesus, God has brought a new ‘race’ into existence. And you can tell by the way they worship. You see the book of Romans, when it gets through describing God’s plan, and moves on to the life of those who are rescued by God, automatically starts with worship (Romans 12:1).

Renewed to Worship

The point? Those who belong to Jesus have their minds renewed (Romans 12:2) so they can offer worship, which is ‘reasonable’ (the meaning of the word in Romans 12:1, which is commonly translated ‘spiritual’). Reasonable worship is the opposite of the futility and foolishness of the idolatry of chapter 1.

So Romans, amongst other things, is about God fixing broken worshippers and, by the Holy Spirit, giving them the right mind.

Renewed to Serve

This book then goes on to talk about how these new people, with new minds, treat one another. In these verses we are told how they need to use the gifts God graciously gives to them ‘according the measure of faith assigned’ (Romans 12:3). God has not brought into existence a random bunch of disconnected superheroes and a few nobodies. He has placed us in a body – a body in which everybody plays a part, in which everybody is needed.

This means the end of individual pride and selfish ambition. That is like a cancer in this body. Members which function without the ‘renewed mind’ agenda are dangerous and need correcting. They are ‘conforming to this world’ (Romans 12:2). The antidote is to serve according to the grace and faith that God uniquely gives. This means God’s strength, not our selfishness, is the driving factor.

We’re then given some examples of how different gifts serve the body

  • Prophecy
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhorting
  • Contributing (giving)
  • Leadership
  • Mercy

Renewed to Judge Rightly

Without the goal in mind being the good of the whole body, and without the energy coming from the Holy Spirit, our ‘service’ becomes self-aggrandizing. If we ‘outdo one another’ it should be in ‘showing honour’ (Romans 12:10).

To avoid missing the point we need the sober judgement, which comes from the gospel – a gospel view of ourselves.

This means reflecting on how all that we have (our salvation, our faith, our gifting) is a gift from God – therefore it is nothing we can boast in (1 Corinthians 4:7). We mustn’t idolize our own gifting or we’ll lose perspective and react fearfully or proudly whenever our false self worth is threatened.

To think soberly about oneself is to remember one is nothing special and one has no better thing than Jesus, with whom we must be completely satisfied, however well our gift is received!

We must also avoid idolizing other people’s gifts, to the point where we wish we were someone else and, instead of practicing our own measure of faith, submit to unbelief.

The main gift of the Holy Spirit is a renewed mind. With that in place everything else falls into place.

The final thing we need to do is settle with the fact that God has put us in a body. The best way to discover our gifts is to find out what it is we do which truly builds up other members. Then we can go crazy playing to our strengths. But this is humbling as we need to start accepting the evaluation of the people around us.

That can hurt but the gospel helps us to remember we are nothing special in ourselves – but loved as the most treasured possessions of almighty God! This means we can afford to get our ‘spiritual gifts ego’ jilted from time to time.

Apostles and Evangelists

April 6th, 2009

Sunday before last at CCK I preached the fourth of six messages on the theme of the Holy Spirit. The focus this time was on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (and this will remain as the theme for the rest of the series). I looked especially at the ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 and we finished the evening service with one of our occasional Q and A sessions.

I only had time to take a couple this time as the first two needed long answers.

Another that came in, however, was worth a quick blog entry:

The foundation of the church was laid long ago, so why do we still need apostles?

There is a sense in which the foundation of the church was laid long ago. The first apostles in that respect were unique. The whole church through history was given its foundation in the complete writings of scripture – and there is no authority above the scripture. Any ‘Apostle’ or ‘Prophet’ suggesting otherwise (or claiming some secret interpretation of scripture over against the obvious one) should be ignored – or pushed off a cliff. Yes in that sense the foundation is complete, final and not to be supplemented.

But to deduce from this that all the foundation laying in church life has been done forever is a mistake. Every generation – and indeed every church – will have foundations: non-negotiable deal-breaker characteristics, doctrines, values, principles, goals and sustained passions. These exist by default. In any given community, you keep pushing and you’ll soon find what these things are. What are these people living for? What makes them tick? What can you get thrown out for? What is the mission, how do you know who is in on it, and on what basis do you get in? The answers to these questions are your foundations.

Either these foundations will be laid down by accident or deliberately. The people who lay them should not do so according to preferences. The first apostles knew they were servants of revelation and insisted that this revelation should be set down at the very heart of every local church. When they laid this foundation properly, their work would take them elsewhere. This is surely the kind of activity Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 3:10 every local church needed apostolic foundations. With these in place in a key city, Paul could consider a whole region to have as good as received the gospel (Acts 19:10; Romans 15:18-19).

Apostles given by Jesus to the church today must continue to lay foundations in every church. The major difference between today’s apostles and ancient ones is that today’s apostles submit to, and apply, the scriptures – they don’t write them!

On another note, I also taught that Sunday on the Ephesians 4:11 gift of evangelist and referred to Phil Turner as a good example of this gift in CCK. Well I like to think I was proved right this week. Phil preached at our services today and saw at least 22 people make a response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Aside from baptizing 16 new believers – 8 at each service – I’d say that made it a good day. Jesus is giving gifts for the building of his church

Ephesians 4:1-16: Gifts & Ministries of the Holy Spirit Part I

March 31st, 2009

Often we feel like we need to defend the church or even ignore the church if we are to lead people to Jesus. Is it possible that the church is the primary reason men and women don’t accept Jesus Christ? However, the church is God’s plan, the only answer. God’s plan throughout history is worked out through the church.

God’s has given grace gifts to the church, in particular gifts of leadership. In the church everyone is on an equal footing, leader or otherwise but the ascended Christ has given some leaders to serve the church. Leadership starts with service and ends with service.

God has given apostles, to outwork foundational values in churches, Prophets to bring God’s word for a particular moment and Evangelists to help bring people into the Kingdom of God.

Luke 3:15-17; Acts 1:1-8 – He Will Drench You

March 16th, 2009

What is this?
Acts 2 fulfils John the Baptist’s statement concerning Jesus ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’.

At Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the promised Holy Spirit. This changed everything for them. For example, the Spirit transformed Peter from a coward denying Jesus to a man preaching to thousands that they had killed the Son of God.

Peter, along with the other disciples in Acts 2, believed in Christ’s resurrection from the dead and that He was the Son of God long before being filled with the Holy Spirit. So did the Samaritan converts in Acts 8 and Paul in Acts 9. The Ephesian disciples in Acts 19 are probably not yet real believers – but Paul’s question to them is nevertheless revealing.

Throughout Luke’s writings, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is distinct from salvation through believing in Christ – even though the two happen together in Acts 10.

Throughout the book of Acts there seems to be a general theme of an experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is always more than a secret work.

How does this happen?
Often through the laying on of hands, but not always. There are visible manifestations of the infilling of the Holy Spirit – for example the gift of tongues (languages). But there are some Spirit filled men who do not speak in tongues. That said, it would not be wise to despise the gift of languages.

Have you received this?
There are 5 types of people:

  • You know you have been Holy Spirit baptised
  • You have not and want to be
  • You are not sure
  • You have not and you think you have
  • You don’t know Jesus yet

Ask Jesus and He will give the Holy Spirit to you.

2 Corinthians 3:7-4:6 Death or Freedom?

March 2nd, 2009

Freedom for Bondage?
In the Bible, freedom is understood as freedom to worship (and thereby serve) God. The Exodus (the rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt) is a story picture of this. Paul is using Exodus language here to link themes of freedom and true worship. The irony is that the Exodus generation, having been liberated, received the law, which Paul sees as a bondage to the Jew.

Freedom for Freedom
In this respect the difference between the Exodus generation and believers in Jesus could not be more striking. Unlike those who knew God only through Torah (the law) we are set free for freedom (Galatians 3).

Paul paints the difference in striking terms – life and death… when it comes to finding a way to live and worship – choose the way of the Spirit – not the law.
And this is only possible if you are born of the Holy Spirit.

  • The law condemns the old heart
  • The Spirit gives a new heart
  • The law gives instructions
  • The Spirit gives companionship
  • The law puts nails in the coffin
  • The Spirit sows seeds of life
  • The law veils our eyes
  • The Spirit opens our eyes
  • The law makes you a slave
  • The Spirit makes you a son
  • The law promotes to compliance or hardness
  • The Spirit promotes love and joyful obedience

Working It Out
The application of this is 2 pronged: reckon on it… have high expectations of new covenant life – and don’t trade them in…
Sow to the Holy Spirit – time, edification, fellowship with God.
God’s desire for the sons of Adam: glad worship and obedience from a liberated heart

Exodus 33:7-23 My Presence Will Go With You

February 23rd, 2009

The presence of the Holy Spirit is a defining and distinguishing characteristic of the people of God.

The presence of the helper amongst us is compared to Jesus among us. He does the things Jesus does – but (unlike Jesus) does not draw attention to himself. Instead he draws attention to Jesus.

As the presence of God among us, the Holy Spirit anticipates a greater time of fulfilment when God’s presence will be universally known. In this era he actually comes upon us to press us into the ends of the earth (and our city). This creates a tension for us. The Spirit of mission (if we misunderstand him) will keep us from our mission.

There is an attractive ‘missiology’ that sees the church exclusively living for seasons of unusual manifestation – which will solve all our problems. (i.e. revival is when God takes over…). But New Testament missiology is a little different. The Holy Spirit is a missionary: always driving us onwards to the regions and the neighbourhoods beyond. Learning cultures, engaging those cultures and being ready for things to change accordingly.