By Pastor Glenn Pease
Before he became president of the United States Abraham Lincoln was a captain in the army. He was drilling his men one day during the Black Hawk War. As he marched along with his men he came to a fence with a gap in it. He wanted his men to go through that gap, but for the life of him he could not remember the proper words of command to get his company to go endwise through that gateway. Lincoln describes in his own words how he got through this embarrassing situation: "I shouted, company halt! Break ranks! You are dismissed for two minutes, after which you will fall in again on the other side of the fence."
That was not the right way to do it according to the book, but he got the job done. Life is filled with situations where you cannot remember the right words, but you somehow get by with some sort of a substitute. For example, when you introduce a man to a woman are to you to say the man's name first or the woman's? If you are not reviewing such details of etiquette you forget this things, but the point is, whatever you say, be it by the book or not, you get the job done, and few will be offended. We all say many things that are precisely correct, but they are overlooked because very few are perfectionists like the English teacher who came upon the scene of an accident. She rushed to the side of a dying man. He looked up at her and whispered, "I think I'm done for." She responded, "Please don't end your last sentence with a preposition."
There are many things we may not say right, but then neither are they terribly wrong. On the other hand, there are some things that are always wrong, and they are to be avoided at all cost. You should never shout "fire" in a crowed building when there is no fire. That is no mere minor mistake and slip of the tongue. That is a direct and definite evil. There are some things you cannot do with the tongue and escape condemnation. Paul is dealing with one of these things in verse 3 that is true for all people for all time in all places. This is an absolute that Paul is dealing with, and it becomes a permanently valid means of testing the spirit of all men.
Paul's absolute principle is, "No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, 'Jesus be cursed.'" No matter how gifted a man is, and no matter how marvelous are the wonders he performs, he is clearly a fake if he curses Jesus. On the other hand, however ungifted a man might be if he acknowledges that Jesus is Lord, he is a true member of the body led of the Spirit. Paul's main concern in dealing with gifts is that Christians will get carried away in all directions because of the great diversity of the gifts. Therefore, he makes sure that the primary focus is on Jesus. The real issue in any spiritual matter is, where does it put Jesus? If Jesus is not exalted as Lord you have missed the boat no matter how exciting and enthusiastic your worship is. If Jesus is glorified as Lord your worship may be plain and simple, but it is led of the Spirit.
Here is the test: Not how excited are the people, or how great is the music and speaker, but what is done with Jesus? If He is left out, or in any way degraded, you do not have Christian worship, but pagan worship. If Jesus is exalted, you have Christian worship regardless of the nature of the service. Right off then, we must get it straight in our minds that there is not any absolute in a worship service other than the place of Jesus Christ. His Lordship is all that ultimately matters. This means an Episcopalian service, which is extremely ordered, and the Pentecostal service, which is extremely free, can both be valid expressions of Christian worship if Jesus is exalted as Lord by those who worship. Form is not the key factor, but focus is. If Jesus is not the center you are being lead astray by a false spirit.
Paul reminds the Corinthians in verse 2 of how they were led astray in their pagan religion to worship dumb idols. Satan is not opposed to religion and worship. He is the author of much religion, and he delights in the worship of idols. Idolatry has given him more victims than almost any other weapon. If he can get Christians to get so excited about certain gifts that they forget the Giver, he is more than willing to promote spiritual gifts. That is what is happening at Corinth as former pagans who were very emotional in their worship are coming into the church. They took a liking to the more emotion-centered gifts such as speaking in tongues. It was a legitimate gift of the Spirit, but they got so caught up in the gift that it became the center of their thinking and worship. Jesus was pushed to the back seat, and tongues became in charge of the worship experience.
Some in the church had apparently gone into a state of ecstasy where they came under the control of the old demonic spirits of paganism, and they cried out, "Jesus be cursed." This may have been a mystery to those who heard, but since the spirit was obviously moving and the words were spoken in a state of ecstasy, and by tongues, they did not question it. They assumed that it must be all right, but Paul is saying it is not so. Nothing is all right and an authentic leading of the Holy Spirit that puts Jesus down. All the tongues and miracles and high emotions are no proof of true spirituality. The real test is the Lordship of Jesus. The real test of the tongue is not found in the gift of tongues, but in the confession of Christ as Lord.
What we see here is the possibility of Satan using a gift of the Spirit to bring confusion into the church. Because he can do this, the whole issue of gifts and tongues is a controversial matter. Some feel tongues are of the devil, and they point to pagan examples. Satan can and does use tongues for his purpose. But we need to be honest with all of reality and recognize that God also uses tongues. It was one of the valid gifts, and Paul did not forbid tongues, but only their abuse. We will study this in detail later, but we need to make it clear from the start. We live in a world where Christ and Satan are often using the same weapons. Satan goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah seeks to lead His people to victory over the rebel roaring lion. Satan like a serpent seeks to poison all that is good, but Jesus is lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness as an antidote to all the evil serpent's stings. We are to look to Him and live.
God is the author of the beauty of sex, but Satan turns it into a beastly drive that destroys lives. God is the creator of alcohol that can be used in medicines that bring health, but Satan uses it to bring massive sorrow and death in the world. We could go on listing the ways Satan perverts all that is good, but the point is that discerning Christians do not stop using any gift of God just because Satan abuses it. The answer to abuse is not abandonment, but the proper God-ordained use. When we get to tongues I think we can show that many today in the charismatic movement have found a proper use for this gift that is biblical, reasonable, and of no offense to those who are not seeking it.
Dr. Kurt Koch, one of the world's authorities on the occult and Christian counseling in his book Charismatic Gifts tells of the woman who spoke in tongues at a meeting of Christians for prayer. Each time they met she spoke in tongues. They decided to test the spirit in her. They asked the spirit to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. The spirit would not respond. Finally they commanded in the name of Jesus that you tell us the truth-do you confess Jesus Christ as Lord? They did not expect the response they got. Suddenly a male voice issued from the woman saying, "No, I hate him." They had put the spirit to the test and discovered it was demonic. Dr. Koch has many examples of this type of thing where Satan has counterfeited the gifts of the Spirit. But he does not reject tongues because of this, for he recognizes they can be authentic. We just need to test the spirits by their confession of the Lordship of Christ.
There are Christians in many denominations who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and use the gifts of the Spirit to exalt Him. That is the real test says Paul. That is the basis of our unity. We do things differently, and we even think differently on many issues, but the one thing all have in common, who are truly led of the Holy Spirit, is that they can say sincerely that Jesus is Lord. This is the foundational universal creed. If you don't start here and keep all centered around this creed, you risk getting sidetracked and off center, and this can lead to confusion and abuse of the gifts.
What does this mean for us in day by day living? First of all, it means that how we use the name of Christ reveals what kind of spirit is dominating our lives. When you hear a person use the name of Jesus as a curse word you can rightly assume that they are not Spirit-filled. It is possible for Christians to get so caught up in the world of secular speech that they will use the name of Jesus in slang. This careless use of the tongue reveals that they have allowed their tongue to become a tool of Satan just as the Corinthians did. They were duped by the pagan spirit of wild ecstatic worship, and the modern Christian is duped by the enthusiastic spirit of the secular cursing, but it is the same spirit and not the Holy Spirit.
You cannot judge that a person is saved or not by his tongue, and the use of the name of Jesus, but you can judge his spiritual state. If a person does use the name of Jesus in degrading ways, you know for sure that he is not a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Christian at that point. He could get right with God the next day and use his tongue to exalt Jesus, but at that point he is more of an instrument for the spirit of darkness than for the Spirit of light. The Spirit-filled Christian is one whose tongue always exalts the Lordship of Jesus.
It is important that we make the Lordship of Jesus the basis for our fellowship and unity. Paul goes on to describe the great diversity in gifts and ministries. The Pentecostals do things so much differently than we do, but that does not mean they are wrong. They have a different function to reach different people. So also the Episcopalians have a different way of worship and a different outreach to different people. The great number of different denominations need not be a disturbing fact if we look at it in the light of the great need to reach all kinds of people for Christ. Paul is saying that differences are normal and to be expected. What good would a body be if it was all just a mass of ears or eyes? It could do a great job of hearing or seeing, but there is much more for the body to do than that, and so there are many members with differing gifts. If everybody in the church was just like us, most of the work of the church would never get done. Jesus needs a body with great diversity, and that is what we see in the world.
The Corinthians had to see that they were not the whole body, and that is what we need to see. The world is full of Christians who are doing things we cannot do because we are not gifts to do them. How do we know they are part of the body? We listen to their profession, and if we hear that Jesus is Lord, they have met the test, for only Spirit-led members of the body will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Secondly, we look for the fruit of the Spirit. It is technically possible for someone to say Jesus is Lord and not be sincere, but the fruit of the Spirit is proof that one is Spirit-filled and led.
The question is often asked, what is the difference between the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit? One of the primary differences is that every Christian is to develop and manifest all of the fruits, but the gifts are given to specific individuals as the Lord wills. No member of the body will have all of the gifts. No eye will ever be able to hear, smell, and walk. The gifts are distributed to make all members of the body interdependent. The fruits deal with character and what you are, but the gifts deal with service and what you do. The fruits are always good, but the gifts can be abused and misused.
We discover our gifts by observing how we respond in certain situations. C. Wayne Zunkel says we are to imagine a church social where one of the members knocks over a cup of coffee or spills a plate of food on the floor. Someone in that room will begin immediately to clean up the mess. This person likely has the gift of service. Another member may have no interest in the mess, but they throw an arm around the person and show loving support, and this exhibits the gift of encouragement. Another member may be examining the situation and seeing that this could have been prevented by locating the coffee in a different spot. He has the gift of organization or administration. The point is, look at what you like to do and the way you respond in various situations, for this will give you a clue as to what gifts you may possess. Whatever your gift, the test of its authenticity is do you use it to exalt the Lordship of Christ?