Impact Your World for Christ

impact_your_world_by_preach_it-d4iear2-pngMy New Year sermon is about how we can impact people for Christ. We are a small but growing church. We have limited resources. How then can we shine Jesus to people around us?

There is a mega church that has a large signboard—“What the Bible Says.” Another big church broadcasts their pastor’s preaching through TV. Yet another big church features great speakers and great music.

But what does the Bible say about making an impact in this world?

Paul answers that question in Titus 2. In v. 5, he writes, “that the word of God may not be reviled.” In v. 8, “so that an opponent” has “nothing evil to say about us.” In v. 10, “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” This is Paul’s purpose—to impact the world for Christ positively.

In Titus 2, Paul is not telling us that great music will impress this world. He is not telling us that large gatherings will influence people. Rather, Paul teaches that to make an impact in this world, we are to live godly lives. The key is in how we live.

Paul singled out five groups of people in church—the older men, the older women, the young women, the young men, and the slaves/employees. He exhorted them how to live for God so that they impact people.

There are two parts in this chapter. First, Paul writes about how we should live. Second, Paul writes about why we should live like that.

The Apostolic Rules for Speaking in Tongues

hand-on-biblePaul then closes this chapter with rules for orderly worship. I note eight apostolic rules for speaking in tongues in church.

  1. Let all things be done for building up the church. “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).
  1. Only two or three will speak in tongues in church, and no more than three. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three” (v. 27).
  1. Each must speak in tongues in turn, not all at the same time. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn” (v. 27).
  1. Let someone interpret each tongues speaking. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret” (v. 27).
  1. If no one will interpret, let each one keep silent in church. “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church” (v. 28). To keep silent is to stop speaking in tongues in church.
  1. While he is silent, let him speak to himself and to God—silently. “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (v. 28) It means silent speaking or silent praying.
  1. Women should keep silent (or not speak in tongues) during the evaluation of tongues. “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (vv. 33-34; cf. vv. 29-31).
  1. Do not forbid speaking in tongues—so long as it is done God’s way. (Oster) “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (v. 39; cf. v. 26).

Sadly, many churches disregard and disobey these apostolic rules. Yet the true Spirit-filled church is the Word-obeying church (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16).

Some say that the prohibition in Rule 7 applies only to women prophesying, according to the immediate context (vv. 29-33). But the general context is speaking in tongues.

More, tongues speaking may involve prophesying. Peter called the speaking in tongues prophesying at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18). Tongues speaking was a medium of revelation. It revealed God’s Word. The interpretation of tongues may itself be a prophecy. Thus, the rule against women speaking may apply to women prophesying in tongues.

Paul said do not forbid speaking in tongues (v. 39). But he also said that if there is no interpretation of tongues, the speaker must stop speaking in tongues (v. 28). To stop the speaking in tongues is to forbid it in effect. Is Paul contradicting himself?

The answer is, no. Paul wants to stop the speaking in tongues without interpretation. Yet he does not forbid the speaking of tongues with interpretation. So long as there is the interpretation of tongues and it builds up the church, they should not forbid it. But if there is no interpretation of tongues, Paul himself forbids it (v. 28).

Further, God’s Word was not yet complete at Paul’s writing. The Spirit spoke God’s Word through tongues and prophecy. Tongues speaking and prophesying were channels of revelation of God’s Word at the time. Hence, to forbid the speaking in tongues was to forbid the revelation of God’s Word in effect. So that they will not hinder the revelation of God’s Word through tongues, they were not to forbid it.

Nonetheless, God’s special revelation is now complete in its final form—the Scriptures. Thus, there is no more need to speak in tongues or prophecy, since we now have the full revelation of God’s Word—the Bible. The Bible is the more sure word of prophecy–our sufficient guide for faith and practice. Peter wrote, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; to which you do well that you take heed,” the “prophecy of the Scripture” (2 Pet. 1:19-20, KJV 2000).

What does Paul aim to achieve with these rules? He wants to fulfill the fundamental purpose of spiritual gifts—to serve the common good, the spiritual growth of the church.

Let us use our spiritual gifts for one central purpose—to build up the body of Christ. What is your spiritual ability? Use it to build up the church. Use it to edify others in the church. Use it for the common good.

Five Words are More Important Than Ten Thousand Tongues

tongues-and-intelligibilityPaul then moves from elevating prophecy to degrading tongues speaking without interpretation. The whole tenor of Paul in 1 Cor. 14 is against the pursuit of tongues without interpretation, which does not edify the church. Instead, he presses the pursuit of the gift that builds up the church. Paul argues that tongues speaking without interpretation is practically useless in church. But prophesying or teaching is useful. The reason—prophesying is intelligible while tongues speaking without interpretation is unintelligible.

6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Cor. 14:6-9).

Hence, speaking in tongues is useless in church if nobody understands what you are saying.

Further, Paul explains the need to know the meaning of the spoken tongues (v. 10). He cites the speaking in tongues in the context of speaking in languages of the world. “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me” (vv. 10-11). He uses the world of languages to illustrate speaking in tongues. Note Paul’s words—“none is without meaning.” Hence, one must know the meaning of the tongues by interpreting it. All tongues speaking should be interpreted, so that all can know the meaning of the tongues.

Thus, Paul wrote, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12). How do they do that? By ensuring the interpretation of tongues. When you interpret the tongues, people will understand its meaning. When they understand its meaning, they will be edified.

“Therefore,” Paul wrote, “One who speaks in tongues should pray for the power to interpret” (1 Cor. 14:13). The reason for this instruction is apparent. The interpretation of tongues will build up the church. The spiritual growth of the church is the central purpose of all spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues.

Paul then hammers the importance of understanding the tongues spoken.

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Indeed, what is the use of praying in tongues when you do not know what you are praying? What is the benefit of praising in tongues in church when others do not know what you are praising? Interpreting the tongues brings understanding; and with understanding comes edification.

Note Paul’s purpose, “to instruct others” (v. 19). To instruct others is to build up others. To build up others is to bring good to others. Paul would rather speak a few words “with my mind,” i. e., with the understanding, than many words in a tongue that nobody understands. The motive is obvious. He wants to edify the church.

Why Prophecy Instead of Speaking in Tongues

slide_1Why does Paul stress prophesying instead of tongues speaking? First, Paul says that speaking in tongues is speaking to God but not to people in the church. But prophesying speaks to people in the church, for their edification. Paul wrote,

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Cor. 14:2-3)

Second, tongues builds up the tongues-speaker only, but prophecy builds up the church. “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church” (1 Cor. 14:4).

Third, the prophet is greater than the tongues speaker. “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:5). Why does Paul stress that concept of “building up the church” again and again? Why does Paul allow for tongues with interpretation only? We go back to that one fundamental purpose of spiritual gifts—for the common good, for the edification of the church, for the spiritual growth of the church.

Paul’s Pushback Against the Abuse of Tongues in Corinth

Paul continues to stress the theme of seeking the common good in 1 Cor. 14. 1-cor-14-1-ww-notrace1“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). Note Paul’s command—“pursue love.” Then he follows it up with another command—“desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”

In the following section, Paul then cites the disadvantages of speaking in tongues vs. prophesying. Why did Paul raise this issue? The Corinthian church loved the gift of speaking in tongues. They thought that it was the spiritual thing in church. The problem is that they did not use their gift of tongues out of love for others. They did not care that nobody understood the tongues speakers. They did not mind that they did not bless people in church. They did not bless people because people did not understand what they were talking in tongues. There was no interpretation of tongues. Their practice of tongues speaking was self-serving. They were preoccupied with self-edification, which is the antithesis of the common good. In sum, their practice of tongues did not build up the church. They did not realize the fundamental purpose of all spiritual gifts—to build up the church.

Thus, Paul attacks not merely the misuse and abuse of tongues in Corinth, but also the wrong theology of tongues behind that misuse as well. First, Paul taught that not all can speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:31). They believed that all can speak in tongues. Second, Paul stressed that speaking in tongues without love or concern for others is nothing (1 Cor. 13). They spoke in tongues without concern for the common good. Third, Paul instructed them to pursue love, practice prophecy, and interpret the tongues for one purpose—to build up the church (1 Cor. 14). They spoke in tongues simultaneously and without interpretation.

The More Excellent Way

amoreexcellentway-690x449Then in v. 31, Paul tells the Corinthians to eagerly desire the higher gifts. “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). The greater gifts are those gifts that build up the church. (R. Oster) Again, the emphasis is on using the gifts that serve the church.

Paul mentions the “more excellent way,” which is the way of love  in 1 Cor. 13. No, he is not talking about romantic love or marital love. The context is about loving others in church. He is talking about how love seeks the common good in church. He shows that love for one another should drive our use of spiritual gifts in church.

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul talks of the utter worthlessness of using spiritual gifts without love. If Paul has the gift of tongues but without love, he is just making noise. If he has the gift of prophecy but without love, he is nothing. If he has the gift of faith to move mountains but without love, he is nothing. If he has the gift of giving but without love, he gains nothing.

Paul’s point is that spiritual gifts are nothing without love. For Paul, the most excellent way is not being a gifted church, but being a loving church. It is not being a gifted church, but being the church that uses its gifts out of concern for each other. The failure of the Corinthian church was the failure to seek out the good of others. We see the same problem then and now in many churches.

Now if you use your gifts with love, you bless others. You bring good to others. You achieve the purpose of spiritual gifts—the common good. This is the more excellent way—using your spiritual gifts out of love for others in the church.

Different Gifts, But One Fundamental Purpose

(Part 34 under the Category, “Connect. Grow. Serve.”)

imagesIn our study of 1 Cor. 12, we noted two things. First, there are different spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit. Second, there are different gifts for everyone in the body of Christ.

Third, in the body of Christ, there are different gifts given to everyone, but for one fundamental purpose. Paul wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7, emphasis added). The preposition “for” (pros) in the accusative case speaks of a goal—“for, for the purpose of.” (Gingrich) Paul is saying that the Spirit gives the gifts for the purpose of the “common good.”

What is this “common good”? The Greek is just one word—sumphero. It means, “to be of an advantage to someone.” (Louw-Nida) Paul used the same word in Acts 20:20. He told the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable [sumphero], and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of    repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, the meaning of sumphero is what is advantageous, what is beneficial, and what is profitable to others. In the context of the church, Paul is concerned with the common good—the spiritual benefit of the members of the church.

In 1 Cor. 12:7, Paul mentions “the manifestation of the Spirit.” The context is clear. The manifestation of the Spirit refers to the spiritual gifts of the Spirit. To teach that the manifestation of the Spirit refers to the slaying, dancing, and miracle working of the Spirit is to teach what is alien to Paul. Paul is saying that the manifestation of the Spirit are the gifts of the Spirit. Now the gifts of the Spirit are meant for the spiritual benefit of the church—for the common good. The Spirit gives the gifts for the spiritual growth of all members of the body. That is the fundamental purpose of the gifts of the Spirit.

Conversely, the gifts of the Spirit are not given for the good of an individual only. The gifts are not given for your personal benefit. The gifts are not given for your self-edification. Paul is not concerned with individual gratification of the gifts. Instead, he is concerned with communal satisfaction. He does not encourage personal edification. Rather, he emphasizes church edification.

We see Paul’s emphasis on church edification in Chapters 12, 13, and 14. In 1 Cor. 12:7, he says that the gifts are for the common good. In vv. 21-24, he writes that we should value the less honorable parts of the body—the hands and feet.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it

In v. 25, he gives the reason why. “That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). It is to prevent division in the body. To prevent division, everyone must give the same care to others. We should give the same concern for the less honorable members that we give to more honorable members in church. There should be no discrimination.

This is a good question for us today. Do we give the same care for the less important and the less honorable members of our church? God honors the less honorable parts of the body of Christ. We are to give the same care for them. If you care for one another, you seek the good of each other—the common good.