Us & Them
As we learned yesterday asking questions like "what did the original audience hear or what did they understand" are vital for accurate interpretation. With respect to chapter 12 and Spiritual gifts the church in Corinth did not hear an exhaustive list of Spiritual gifts, nor did Paul write a 101 teaching on how the gifts are to manifest themselves. This seemed to be a working knowledge for them. Instead what Paul imparts, within the context, is that all Spiritual gifts are to be used within the local body for its good, hearkening back to his message of unity. It's also important to note that Spiritual gifts are not the main purpose of Paul writing to the Corinthians. Paul deals with division, sexual immorality, marriage and divorce, eating food offered to idols, the Lord's supper, spiritual gifts and the resurrection of the body. I only mention these to say that when we ask the question what did the original audience hear, we of course mean, what did they hear pertaining to the subject matter at hand. The Corinthians obviously heard many things, but we are seeking to find out what they heard with respect to Spiritual gifts. Today we're asking a different question, specifically, what's the difference between us and them? This difference can change a meaning entirely. If we were to take a passage like Jeremiah 29:11 for example where God says "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you" the context of the writing was that God was speaking to a Jewish people that were sent into exile but that even through that exile God would be kind to them and bring them through it. In our culture when we hear the term prosper we often have the American dream in our minds. We think houses, cars, all the amenities and everything that we could hope to ever want and need. The difference between us and them is so drastic that it can harmfully change the very meaning God intended. So here are a few differences between us and the people in Corinth. All the way back in chapter one, where we find Paul desiring unity, we read that he appeals to super natural expressions in the church over and against mere human wisdom and action. He says, quite clearly in chapter two, that he did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom proclaiming the testimony of God but rather he came with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. So what? Well, unlike the church today it would seem the supernatural was a clear tool employed by the apostles and the church to communicate the gospel. I include more than apostle's here because Barnabas and others worked miracles according to the scriptures. If we look to the book of Galatians (chapter 3:5 specifically) it seems that supernatural activity happened on a common frequency. And of course the very appeal in this letter to the Corinthians teaching them how to practice these supernatural expressions. What I'm getting at is this, the understanding that Spiritual gifts were among the people and that they were to operate in them came naturally. It however does not come naturally to us. Therefore when Paul coaches them on their need to use these gifts for each other's common good (as the members of a body working together) he doesn't have to cajole or convince them into believing in the supernatural. This is why we don't have a link the 101 lesson on spiritual gifts but rather a seemingly length the lesson on unity. Today's church is in a completely different place. Since the Enlightenment we've become so rational in our thinking and so humanistic we don't even see the spiritual component in The Bible let alone live as though we need the spiritual gifts God gives. This has of course given rise in the church to beliefs such as cessationism. In which even when we do see miraculous things we don't dare call them supernatural or miraculous but rather rationalize them away as freak chance happenings of God. Truth be told all miraculous happenings are a sovereign work of God, The Bible simply communicates that God intends to work through people... and he still does today. Even with this overly rational approach some today hunger for a knowledge of Spiritual things. Gifts certain individuals might have, how they're to manifest themselves, as well as how to work them together in the greater body. One very clear difference between us and them is our skepticism (and thus ignorance) regarding Spiritual matters. Another major difference between us and them was their absolute need for one another inside of the church. You see the Corinthians lived in Greece, and Greece was well known for idolatry and divisive philosophies and many other issues. In order for the Corinthians to find any measure of peace in their life they needed to come together as the church. Otherwise they were persecuted. They needed to be for each other rather than against each other. In our churches today (especially in America) we can find a new community on every street corner. There's no real stress for unity physically or spiritually because there's no real threat of persecution. We don't seem to find ourselves in a battle against the culture except for maybe a political culture. Instead we feel quite safe in our own little churches where we are insulated from the culture around us. And if we don't feel safe we just find another church. It's quite sad! The Corinthians did not feel such safety except for in the company of one another. They therefore couldn't rely on mere physical and earthly unity but needed a Spiritual unity and that from God. Truth is we need the same thing! Paul makes an appeal to the people of Corinth to tell them that they need to come together in all things whether in communion or spiritual gifts expression. Paul stresses that these things are for the common good because outside of the plan of God the world didn't have the common good of Corinthian christians in mind. There are plenty more differences between us and them and I'd love for you to share your observations with me in the comments section below or in an email. These differences will serve us well as we ask another question tomorrow; what is the theological principle that we discover inside a 1 Corinthians 12. I will define a theological principle and then we will move forward from there. Lastly, don't lose heart we are still all about discovering spiritual gifts, how they apply to our life and what our individual gifts are but in order to understand them properly we must go back and find out what The Bible says concerning these gifts.