By Pastor Glenn Pease
A new bride was showing a visiting friend her first garden she had ever planted. The friend notice several small green clusters at one end of the garden and asked what they were. The bride said proudly, "They are radishes." "Really," said the visitor, "most people plant them in rows rather then clusters."
"They do?" responded the puzzled bride. "That's strange-they are always in bunches in the store."
Ignorance in many areas of life can be humorous and harmless, but in many other areas it is a terrible curse. Dorothy Davis, as a young missionary wife, tells of how hard she had to work to save natives from their ignorance. It has always been a custom for the natives she worked with to give birth to their children in chicken coops. They let the baby drop on its head and lie on the dirty floor with the chilly mountain air blowing in. Many have died unnecessarily. Panic reigns when twins are born, and she has collected photos of twins that have been raised in order to persuade them that multiple births are not a calamity brought on by a malicious demon. Several families have not let their twins die because of her efforts. The light of the Gospel is pushing back the forces of darkness all over the world, but the fact is, ignorance is still Satan's most powerful weapon, and there is plenty of it still around.
Ignorance is one the major causes for Christians missing out on God's best. This was true in the early church, and it is still true today. A devout woman was sent by her Christian psychiatrist to see a man who practiced faith healing. The faith healer upset her by telling her that psychiatrists were instruments of the devil. Here was a case where one Christian was seeking the help of another member of the body, but that part of the body would not recognize him as part of the body. This is the very problem that plagued the church at Corinth. They were ignorant of the great differences that exist in the body of Christ. In their limited view each tended to think that only those who were like them, and those who had their gifts, were truly a part of the body. This lead to division in the church and a lack of cooperation that allowed Satan to hinder the progress of the church.
Satan's great task in this world is to keep us ignorant and uninformed concerning the truth of God. If the truth shall set us free, then ignorance will keep us in bondage. In Eph. 4:18 Paul writes of the Gentiles who are, "..alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them." Ignorance is the enemy of all men, and Paul knew it could still be a curse to God's own people. He knew that Jews had failed to receive God's best because of ignorance. They had a zeal for God, but it was not according to knowledge, and he writes in Rom. 10:3, "For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness they did not submit to God's righteousness."
Here were zealous dedicated people who wanted only the best, but in their ignorance they rejected God's best. Ignorance is truly a curse, for it makes the best people do the worst things. Because it can even make Christians miss God's best, one of Paul's most urgent statements in his Epistles is, "I would not have you to be ignorant brethren." He uses this phrase most often in writing to the Corinthians, for their ignorance was creating a lot of confusion. The good that came out of it is that because of it we now have Paul's enlightening chapters on th gifts of the Spirit to be our guide, and the guide for all the church through time. The purpose of these chapters is to inform Christians about the value and function of the gifts of the Spirit so that they might be a blessing rather than a burden to the church.
The Corinthian church did have some excuse for their ignorance until Paul wrote these chapters, but we have no excuse for being ignorant and uninformed. In fact, it is a sin for a Christian today to be ignorant concerning spiritual gifts, for we have this clear revelation. Alfred North Whitehead said, "Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue, ignorance has the guilt of vice." No Christian has a right to remain ignorant on the issue of spiritual gifts. The Corinthians had all of the gifts and yet they were far from being an ideal church because of their ignorance. This teaches us that it is not the gifts that are the key to being what God wants us to be, but rather, the intelligent use of the gifts. We have God's revelation before us, and our task is to go over it verse by verse so that we can be informed and better prepared to be instruments of these gifts in our day.
Verse 1. "Now concerning spiritual gifts." Gifts is not in the Greek and many recommend it be translated spiritualities. Paul has been dealing with the carnalities, that is the problems with the flesh. Now he is going to get into the problems of the spiritual life. It is not only the body that can foul us up in our Christian life. Even the spirit can be a problem to the Christian who is uninformed. In verse 2 Paul reminds the Corinthians of how they were moved and led astray to worship dead idols. The Greek or pagan idea of being spiritual was to get so caught up in a fever of emotion that the mind was no longer in control. The less self-control you had the more you were under the control of the divine spirit. The highest spiritual experience was to be in a state of ecstasy. The modern equivalent would be what we call the holy rollers. They are so caught up in a spirit of emotion that there is a frenzied rolling of the body because it is no longer under the control of the mind.
The great Greek philosopher Plato said, "It is by madness that the greatest of blessings come to us." Again he said, "No one in possession of his understanding has reached Divine and true exaltation." Paul is writing to show that this is not the Christian teaching. Just the opposite is the case. The highest gifts and blessings are not those that by pass the mind, but those that use and expand the mind such as prophecy and teaching. Pagan worship tended to be very lively, and Paul is not trying to quench the spirit of enthusiasm, but he is trying to make it clear that Christian enthusiasm is not the same as pagan enthusiasm. The one is emotion gone wild, but the other is to be emotion under control.
The history of the church reveals a constant battle to maintain the balance. Some churches go so far in control that they quench the Spirit and have nothing left but ritual and formality. This leads to dead orthodoxy. Other churches neglect the rules for order and allow total freedom. This leads to chaos and the contempt of the world that Paul refers to in 14:23 where he says that outsiders who hear a whole church speaking in tongues will declare that they are mad.
The goal of the church is to seek a balance where the spiritual gifts are free to function, and yet where there is order that appeals to the minds of both believers and unbelievers. This is not an easy balance to maintain, and the result is that most churches are missing out because of one extreme or another. There is either too much order so that Spirit is quenched, or too much freedom so that the human spirit abuses the things of God and brings reproach. Let us not pretend that we have arrived at the perfect balance, for such pride will keep us from seeking to improve our worship and bring it more into conformity with the ideal.
As we go through these chapters we will try to relate what Paul says both the problems of his day and those who have risen in the church of today because of the charismatic renewal. We will also try to wrestle with some of the puzzling questions that enter the minds of many. Let me begin by answering one of my own questions, which is, why did God give gifts to these Corinthians when He must have known that they would abuse them? Why did He let them make a mockery of Christian worship by giving them gifts that they were too ignorant to handle properly. If God knows what is going to happen, why does He go ahead with actions that lead to the problems like these Paul had to deal with? Let's look at some of the implications of these questions.
1. The first thing that we need to see is that just because something is God-given does not mean it must be used for good. God-given gifts can be used for both evil and foolish purposes. Many gifted people in history have been tempted to use their gift in pride, and for self-glory or self-advancement. A God-given gift can be abused, and so no individual is above the criticism of the body. We are to test all of the spirits, and only hold fast to what is good. Every person and ministry must be tested and evaluated, for even godly people can lead us astray.
2. We cannot force God by our theology to do what He does not choose to do. I have the power as a father to open my children's mail when they are in school. I can know what their friends write to them, but I do not exercise that power. God can know exactly what you will do with every gift He bestows upon you, but does He have to exercise that power? Is it impossible for God to limit His power and give gifts, and then wait to see how they will be used? Is God always robbed of surprises that come when His children obey and do well because he is forced to know everything before hand? We cannot know for sure what God chooses to know and how He might limit himself in His relationship to man, but we do know for sure that His knowledge is never the cause for our behavior.
God allows us to respond wisely or foolishly to what He gives us. If we want to abuse His gifts and do harm to ourselves and others, that is a choice we are free to make. He gives guidelines, however, so that we have light to follow, and we will be held accountable for following that light. No one can ever say that God knew that I would be foolish and He let me do it, and so it must be His will. Not so! God said thou shalt not kill or steal, and yet many are murdered and things are stolen every day. God's knowledge of their disobedience is not the cause of their disobedience, for His will is always that people obey. No one can say that God must have known that I would disobey and so I had no choice. I had to do what God knew I would do. This is wrong, for you had a choice, and God willed for you to make the choice of obedience, and what God wills for you to do you can always do. If you didn't do it, it is your choice and not God's will that is to blame.
There are too many Christians in this world who have gotten mad at God and left the church because of the folly of other Christians. It is important for all of us to recognize that God is never the author of any Christian's folly. The problems of the Corinthians with the gifts of the Spirit were due to their ignorance, and it is the same with problems of Christians today.
We need to keep the distinction clear between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Himself. The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Godhead, who is light, and in whom there is no darkness at all. The Holy Spirit does not make the house of God a place of chaos, nor does He do anything that is harmful to the body of Christ. If Christians do these things, and even use the gifts of the Spirit to do them, it is because of their ignorance. God gives us the freedom to do evil even with good, but His Word is given that they might instead bring good out of evil. The key to this whole subject of spiritual gifts is to be found in not being ignorant, or from the positive view point, in being informed and knowledgeable about the nature and purpose of the body of Christ.
A question that is frequently asked is, what is the difference between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit? One of the primary differences is that every Christian is to manifest all of the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits are part of the Christian character that are to grow and develop in each life. The gifts, however, are given to various individuals as the Lord wills. No member of the body has all the gifts, just as there is no part of your physical body that can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Each of these abilities belong to a specific member of the body. And so also in the body of Christ no member can do all things. Each is dependent upon others. The fruits deal with character, whereas the gifts deal with power to perform some ministry to the rest of the body. The fruits deal with what you are, but the gifts deal with what you do. The gifts will pass away, but the fruits will last forever.
The fruits are more of an indication of the depths of your godliness. The gifts are for a function and do not necessarily reveal depth of love for Christ or the body. A gifted person can do wondrous things and still not be loving. Paul wrote in chapter 13 that he could have all of the gifts that would leave the world spell bound and still not have love, and so still be nothing. The fruits are more basic than the gifts. The gifts must always operate under the control of the fruits or they can do more harm than good. We are not to be so enamored of the gifts that we do like the Corinthians did, and give our all for the gifts, but leave the fruits behind. Better that you never discover your gift than to discover it and then use it in an ignorant and unloving way. Make love your aim says Paul, for this is our goal to use all gifts in a way that expresses the love of Christ.