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First Corinthians 12--The variety of gifts, part 2

Jun 16, 2017

The Old Testament is not devoid of the knowledge of spiritual gifts. The problem is that often we have failed to recognize them or to connect them with the list in 1 Corinthians 12. But see, for example, Deuteronomy 34:9,

9 Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.

It is not hard to equate “the spirit of wisdom,” which was administered when Moss “laid his hands on him,” with the spiritual gift of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12:8. Further, Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:14,

14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.

We see, then, that spiritual gifts did not begin with Pentecost in the New Testament, nor was it a new practice to endow men with spiritual gifts by “laying on of hands.” Such practice has enjoyed a long history that goes back at least to the time of Moses and Joshua.

Solomon, too, had a divine gift of wisdom (1 Kings 4:29), which gave him the ability to administer righteous judgment (1 Kings 3:28). Exodus 35:31-34 lists more spiritual gifts:

31 And He has filled him [Bezalel] with the Spirit of God, in wisdom [chokmah], in understanding [tabuwn, “understanding, intelligence”] and in knowledge [da’ath, “knowledge”] and in all craftsmanship [melakah, “work, occupation, business”]34 He also has put in his heart to teach [yarah,”to shoot arrows, to teach”]

There are more gifts of the Spirit than the ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12. In fact, James 1:17 tells us that “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above.”

The important thing is to know that spiritual gifts were not introduced at Pentecost, nor are they limited to the New Testament. Spiritual gifts have been with us from the beginning, because the Holy Spirit has been with us from the beginning of time. Knowing this, it is plain that we should also define these words according to their Hebrew definitions, for although Paul wrote in Greek to a Greek audience, he was using Greek words to express Hebrew thought patterns.

Wisdom, then, is revealed in judgment, that is, one’s ability to discern the truth and to render a proper verdict according to the mind of God, as set forth in the law. So it is with Solomon, whose ability to discern the truth amazed the people of his day. Chokmah is intelligence in judgment, to be insightful and discerning. Like all things Hebrew, chokmah is rooted in the law, because it comes from God and is an expression of His own character.

Recall from Paul’s earlier discussion in the first two chapters of his letter how Paul found it necessary to distinguish between “the wisdom of this world” (1 Corinthians 3:19) and “God’s wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:7). The wisdom of this world is from “the spirit of the world,” (1 Corinthians 2:12) whereas the gift of wisdom is from the Spirit of God.

There is soulish wisdom and knowledge, and there is spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Since Paul already distinguished between the two in the earlier chapters of his letter, he does not discuss this further in chapter 12. However, we ought to read chapter 12 with this in mind, for this understanding of soul and spirit is foundational to chapter 12.

Faith (aman)

In 1 Corinthians 12:9 Paul lists “faith” as the third spiritual gift, saying, “to another faith by the same Spirit.” Paul implies that faith (as a gift of the Spirit) is not necessarily given to all believers, but “to another.” We know, of course, that basic faith is necessary for justification, for we are “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28; 5:1). Further, “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17), which means that no one has faith apart from hearing the inner voice of God. Hence, even justifying faith is a gift from God, for God must speak before a man can hear and respond.

Yet faith as a spiritual gift goes beyond justifying faith. Justifying faith is a Passover experience, whereas the gift of faith is a Pentecostal experience. Hence, there is more than one level of faith that God has given to us. We see this reflected in Paul’s statement in Romans 1:17,

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

We should understand this to mean that the righteousness of God is revealed, layer by layer, from Passover faith to Pentecostal faith—and, by extension, to Tabernacles faith. Israel heard the word and kept the Passover by faith. Hence, they were able to come out of Egypt and be called “the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38 KJV). But when they came to Mount Horeb, they failed to increase their faith to a Pentecostal level, for they refused to hear God’s voice (Exodus 20:18, 19, 20, 21).

Their faith, then, was limited. It was sufficient to be called “the church,” but it was not sufficient to be called an overcomer. For this reason, Hebrews 3:19 tells us, they were unable to enter the Promised Land “because of unbelief”—that is, their lack of faith. The implied warning is that we need true Pentecostal faith in order to get to the Promised Land. Hebrews 4:1 warns,

1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.

The Hebrew word for faith is aman, which is to be faithful. It is the root of emeth, which means “truth.” Since faith comes by hearing, genuine faith comes by hearing truth. One is not saved by hearing a lie, for lies come from the world—not from God. So once again we must consider the source of that which we believe to be true.

Truth

When we hear and respond to the word of God, genuine faith is evident. Many have “faith” in other gods or prophets, but such “faith” has no power to justify or to save. Justifying faith comes only by hearing the voice of God. True hearing is evident when a person believes that the word is true. So Psalm 119:142 says, “Your law is truth” (emeth). Again, in Psalm 119:151 we read, “all Your commandments are truth.” In fact, Psalm 119:160 says, “the sum of Your word is truth.”

Herein lies a problem, for not all believers in the church truly believe this. Their belief is mixed with unbelief. Some, for instance, reject the law. Others reject the gifts of the Spirit. In other words, their faith is partial. To put it another way, their faithfulness to the truth is flawed.

It is precisely for this reason that faith has more than one layer. By definition, all believers have faith on a Passover level, for if they do not believe that the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to cleanse from sin, they are not even Christians. But not all believers have increased their level of faith to a Pentecostal level, where we are willing to hear the voice of God as He speaks His Commandments.

Even those who call themselves Pentecostal often reject the law, thinking it is carnal, and so very little of the law is written on their hearts (Hebrews 8:10). God offered to write His law upon the hearts of Israel in the time of Moses, but they refused. Hence, God gave the law to Moses—who was willing to hear—and he inscribed it on tables of stone. The rest of the law probably was written on paper (Egyptian papyrus) or on copper plates. The point is that the law remained external under the Old Covenant, unless the people developed spiritual ears by which they could hear and believe the promises of God under the New Covenant.

The gift of faith, then, which comes by hearing the truth that is inherent in the divine law, is transferred from external tablets, plates, or paper to the tablets of the heart. When the law is written upon the heart, a person begins to take on the nature of Christ. No longer does he have to obey an external word being imposed upon an unwilling heart; he does the works of Christ by nature, not by compulsion. He goes beyond obedience into agreement.

This is possible only through the gift of faith. Agreement is bound up in the word AMEN, which is derived from the Hebrew word aman. The Hebrew word amen means “truly, verily, so be it.” It is expressed in the New Testament (KJV) as “verily, verily,” or, as some render it, “truly, truly.” It is the Greek way of saying, “amen, amen” (Nehemiah 8:6), and it always signifies agreement.

Yet even Pentecostal faith is not the highest form of faith, for it is a time of growth and learning. Pentecost is thus a leavened feast (Leviticus 23:17) in need of the baptism of fire to stop the leavening action. Pentecost is the feast of the wilderness. The feast of Tabernacles is the goal of Pentecost, signifying one’s entrance into the Promised Land. Hence, Pentecost is a time where we are still learning obedience until such time as we come into full agreement.

We can measure our own hearts by asking ourselves whether we agree with His law, or merely comply with His commands as we are led by the Spirit. In whatever area of life that we must submit our own will to the will of God, it shows that we are still in obedience training. When a person first begins to submit his/her rebellious will to the law of God, much grumbling takes place. We submit, but we go “kicking and screaming.” When we arrive at the place where God’s commands are what we would do naturally and joyfully, then can it be said that we are in agreement.

That is the highest level of faith.


This is part 61 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in First Corinthians


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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones