Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 1 Cor 12:4-7
Beginning in chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul is answering a series of questions about which the church in Corinth had taken issue and was perhaps dividing over. This explains why the topics he is addressing change so radically, from marriage and divorce, to idol-food, to head coverings, to the Lord’s Supper, to spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection. As we seek to interpret these rather difficult and controversial sections of Scripture, we have to keep in mind the overall theme and purpose for which Paul writes. We see quite clearly in the first four chapters that Corinth was a divided church that was consumed with glory-seeking as they boasted in their supposedly advanced level of spirituality. Their divisions are not only seen in the preference of personalities, but in the conciliatory manner in which Paul writes; it might be called the “yes–but” form of argument, which pervades chapters 7-14. When reconciling factious parties, it is necessary to see the truth of both sides of an argument, and say, “yes;” but then, when a truth is taken beyond where it ought to go, a mitigating “but,” is required in order to balance the instruction. An example of this occurs in chapter 14 as Paul addresses the matter of speaking in tongues, he writes in 1 Cor 14:18-19: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” It is quite clear on many of these controversial matters that Paul’s ultimate goal is not merely to present an apostolic judgment on an issue, but to reconcile warring factions, getting them to understand, appreciate, and love one another. It is no coincidence that the central chapter in the discussion of spiritual gifts (chapter 13) emphasizes love so strongly that it is likely that the church was lacking in this commodity, largely due to their factionalism.
To this day, the matter of Spiritual gifts is a matter of division and even name-calling, as both “charismatics” and “cessationists” tend to stereotype the other party. As judged by “charismatics,” cessationists are stodgy, proud, traditionalists, who do not really believe the whole Bible or love the Lord. They are defeatist, theologically stuffy, dull, and devoid of the Spirit in their worship. They honor tradition over revelation. To the “cessastionist,” the charismatic is profoundly unbiblical in their love for experience over truth; they are elitist, abrasive, uncontrolled glory-seekers, believing there are shortcuts to holiness and spiritual power. They honor experience over truth. While both sides claim to be “Biblical” in their stance, their views are so antithetical. So who is right? The answer, as always must be drawn from an accurate exegesis of appropriate texts of Scripture – most notably the text we begin to study this Sunday. Please pray for us, as we open up a new section of Scripture (chapters 12-14) which, like so much of this epistle, is not lacking in controversy.