The full functioning of the gifts of the Spirit within the church is absolutely essential to the building up of the body, that the body may indeed look like Christ. There is no way that the church can be the church without the functioning of the gifts of the Spirit. They are the gifts God has given to us to help us be Christ in the world.
But not only is the subject vital, it’s also controversial since not all Christians agree on how the gifts are to be expressed, how they are to be used, how many there are, how important certain ones are, what those gifts even are, or how they are discovered. And to top it off, what about tongues?
Who Were the Corinthians?
To start, let’s look at who the Corinthians were, and what their church what like. We know they were a carnal bunch and that carnality was manifested in every conceivable way.
It got so bad they couldn’t even come together to worship in a way that honored God at all. Paul even gives them a stinging indictment – it would be better if you just stayed home.
We need to realize that the Corinthians had a knack for and managed to bring every conceivable element of their old lives into the new. All the trash. If they sued people before they were Christians they did it now. If they slept with their neighbor before they were Christians they did it now. If they went to the temple and got drunk, they came to the church now and got drunk. All of the old life dragged into the new.
What did the Corinthians believe?
It should come as no surprise then when it comes to the gifts of the spirit that there might be a little confusion. But that confusion didn’t just come from their carnality, it also came from their religious history. The prevailing religion in Corinth was what was called the mystery religions. It was the evolution of Baal worship, and one of the fundamental characteristics was the importance of uncontrolled ecstasy and euphoria. The proof that you had indeed reached the epitome of spirituality and ecstasy to them was the cultivation of a magical, sensual communion with that deity. It was semi-conscious and hypnotic, and this mindless ecstatic spiritual place was characterized by a complete loss of control.
The result was chaos and confusion when it came to the gifts of the Spirit. Because having assumed that ecstasy meant spirituality, they couldn’t tell the difference between what was of God and what was of Satan. If ecstasy is the virtue that means you’ve made it, you won’t be able to tell the difference, and they couldn’t.
How can you tell what is of the Spirit?
Please understand me, there is nothing wrong with enthusiasm and the euphoria and ecstasy that comes with true worship. But Satan will counterfeit that. If all we care about and focus on are feelings, we won’t care about content and we open the door for all sorts of problems with a complete lack of discernment. That was Corinth, and it goes on today – if it’s wild and out-of-control it must be of the spirit. And that was what Paul was confronting.
How do we find a balance?
The work of the Spirit is supernatural. The problem in Corinth was that the focus was not God and his word. They couldn’t tell the difference, and suddenly all that mattered were the feelings.
Satan will use whatever it takes to counterfeit the gifts, so we need to be able to discern between what is of God and what is of Satan. By the way, if Satan counterfeits the gifts they must be valuable. You don’t counterfeit what isn’t valuable. So, Paul is saying that because they are valuable, because they are necessary, “I don’t want you to be unaware of spiritual gifts.”
In 1 Corinthians 12:2 it says, “You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.” Paul is confronting them, and says you were led astray. He is speaking of a victim, someone who has no choice, someone who is not in control of their destiny. The picture is that of a prisoner being led away to prison, bound and shackled, and dragged off. It is not a picture of an intelligent, choosing, assessing person.
Speaking to the Corinthians specifically, he’s saying, "Your religious history Corinthians, is characterized by being led away, being carried away in ecstasy and euphoria. The very nature of your worship was losing control. However, that is not the characteristic of your Christian life. So, don’t drag the characteristics of your former pagan religion into Christianity. What you need to do Corinthians is find a balance.” Paul goes into that later in I Corinthians chapter 14 when he says, “I shall pray in the spirit, I shall pray with my mind also. Yes, there is an enthusiasm in the spirit and presence of God, but I don’t lose control.”
In 1 Corinthians 14:33 it says, “For God is not a God of disorder (confusion, being carried away, doing anything), but a God of peace, as in all the congregations of the Saints.” This is the characteristic of Christianity. Don’t be bringing the pagan loss of control into this. Yes, God does work supernaturally, but ecstasy does not guarantee spirituality.
When ecstasy is the virtue, content doesn’t matter. All that matters are feelings and euphoria – this must be God – when it might not be. And if that’s all that matters, I lose my discernment and suddenly, I don’t know the difference anymore.
Paul is simply saying, when people get ecstatic or euphoric it may be of God, but at the same time don’t be so sure it’s God.
How do we find a balance? The answer – be diligent to study the word of God so we can rightly divide the word of truth.