Acts 2 – Pentecost

Read Acts 2

The day of Pentecost is, for Christians, one of the most important days of the year; its significance is upstaged only by Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.  As Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He comforted His disciples that a helper would be sent to be with them.  Pentecost sees this promise fulfilled.

There are a number of things that begin to happen here, impacts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all who believe in Jesus.  While this outpouring is important, we actually begin to see the beginnings of God’s restorative work in the world; the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Pentecost was the day that Jewish people celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses.  That Law represented a specific revelation of God to His people in how He called them to live.  Yet when the Holy Spirit is poured out, the limitation of ethnicity disappears, a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

More than this, however, is the fundamental reversal of the curse of babel.  At the tower of Babel, all language was confused separating and dividing people.  Yet here, as the Holy Spirit comes, this division again disappears and all people hear the Gospel clearly.

This is the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to pass.  In God’s Kingdom, there are no more divisions, no more broken relationships; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”



Day 333: 1 Corinthians 10-13; Worship, Spiritual Gifts, and Love

Today’s reading, apart from chapter 10, have much to do with the corporate aspect of worship in the sense that Paul is talking about “rules” in worship as well as the use of spiritual gifts.  In fact, chapters 11-14 all have to do with pretty much the same thing: corporate worship.  The thing about these chapters is that each one of them often gets used for some reasons that weren’t necessarily part of the original meaning.

In chapter 11, Paul addresses head coverings in worship.  This was likely an issue for the Corinthian church in general and Paul is not necessarily speaking to the whole church here.  It is possible that things were happening in worship involving head coverings that were becoming distractions for worship, therefore Paul set some guidelines for them.  Notice though, that in the midst of this discussion, Paul draws it all back into the center, which is Christ.

In the same way, Paul addresses things that are happening around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The greater story, we read, is that there was division at the Lord’s Table because of class, wealth, and work and this is not acceptable.  Paul writes, “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

We see here too that Paul uses the words of Jesus’ institution of communion and then goes on to point out that one thing that needs to happen during communion is the act of self examination.  By not doing so, Paul says, we are sinning against the body and blood of Christ.  These words are used a great deal in communion and communion preparation liturgies which I think is a good thing, self examination is one thing that we are called to do as Christians.  Sadly, these words have also been used to keep people away from the Table of our Lord, and I don’t think this is right at all.  The Lord’s Supper is a place in which we are welcomed, a place that Christ invites all His people to, and it is clear that all of Christ’s people are sinful by nature (even though we are redeemed).  It is not by human judgments that we are judged, but before God, and when we come to the table we need to remember, above all else, our identity in Christ Jesus as those that are forgiven and justified.  Here Paul is addressing systems of inequality that were present in the Church that were “dishonoring” others at the Lord’s Table, something that is unacceptable in the Church and to God.

Paul then turns his attention to the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14.  I know what you are thinking, “isn’t 1 Corinthians 13 the chapter about love?”  Yes, it is.  However this is another passage that often has been used outside of the context for which it was originally meant.  Paul is talking to the church in a corporate setting here, for both the spiritual gifts and the “love chapter.”  There were a lot of things that were going on in worship, much like the head covering issue and the issues with the Lord’s Supper.  Paul is concerned here that there are things drawing people away from the center of worship, that being Christ.  The use of spiritual gifts had become showy and attention seeking, which is why Paul wishes that the less showy gifts would be the ones that they excel in.  He also talks about women, both speaking and dressing, which doesn’t have anything to do with women in church leadership positions (the precedence for which is set by Lydia in Acts 16), but has more to do with dealing with a particular culture in a particular city where the women’s action in worship was both distracting and tended towards the temple cult worship of pagan gods.  In this case, Paul says that women are to be silent.

Ultimately though, what Paul is getting at here has a lot less to do with how to use these gifts as much as the “why” of using them.  Why do we have spiritual gifts?  Why do they manifest themselves in worship?  Paul very clearly points out that it is for the edification of the body, NOT for individual gain.  Like the teaching on prayer that Jesus does, pointing to the leader that prays loudly on the street corner and receives nothing but public attention, so too would worship be if spiritual gifts were used in such a way.  What does love have to do with it?  It is what surrounds all of this… using spiritual gifts in such a way that we are (you guessed it) loving God and loving neighbor! The Shema!  When the use of spiritual gifts becomes more about showmanship than about worship, we find ourselves in the wrong… Yet these gifts are still present (even today) and are meant to be useful for building up the Body of Christ, and that is how they are meant to be used.

The following is another paper that I have written in the past.  It has more to do with 1 Corinthians 14, which isn’t necessarily part of our reading today, but has everything to do with the chapters that we did read today.

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Pericope Paper: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Introduction.  All people everywhere seek to pursue what is best, to do otherwise would be nothing more than a foolish and empty pursuit.  Christians are called to pursue the things of the Lord and the live above the prevailing worldly culture.  “Live above the culture,” Paul seems to say, “don’t just blend in, be intentionally different.[1]”  This is the main point of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  After talking about the church, and the dealings that the people there were having, Paul begins to talk about spiritual gifts. He writes that they should live their lives in the way of love and seek after spiritual gifts and particularly the gift of prophecy.  Paul goes on to explain that prophecy is a better spiritual gift because it helps to build up all those who hear it, rather than speaking in tongues which is more of a conversation between the person and God.  Paul wants all those to whom he is writing to have the gift of speaking in tongues, but it would be better if people had the gift of prophecy, which helps to build up the church as a whole.  Prophecy is greater and better than speaking in tongues, unless there is someone who can interpret the tongue, in which case the message of the one who is speaking in tongues can be understood.  If one really thinks about it, what good is a message in a language that cannot be understood?  A similar argument can be made of that of an instrument, or group of instruments that plays a song with indistinguishable or out of tune notes.  If people don’t recognize an instrumental sound, how can they react to it?  So it is with people that hear a different tongue.  If people want to have spiritual gifts, they should work to develop gifts that help the church as a whole.  Those who speak in tongues should pray for interpretation.  If one should pray in a tongue and doesn’t understand it, they are only praying with the spirit and their mind is unfruitful, so pray and sing and worship the Lord with both the mind and your spirit.  Though Paul is thankful for his gift of speaking in tongues, it would still be better for intelligible words to be spoken in the church rather than tongues.  Though tongues are a sign of the Holy Spirit, the really don’t help unless there is someone to interpret.  If someone that is not a believer comes amongst a group of people speaking in tongues, he will not understand and probably think everyone is crazy.  On the contrary though, if a group of people are prophesying and an unbeliever comes into the group, he will hear and understand what is being said and know that God is there[2].

Paul brings up several different principles that could and should be applied to everyday Christian life.  Everyone has gifts that can be used in the church today, but what Paul is addressing here in particular are spiritual gifts.  Paul’s goal is to further clarify the proper use and further development of spiritual gifts. One of the main theological principals in this particular passage excerpt in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth is that the people of the church and the church as a whole should seek to strengthen and use the gifts God has given them to help the church grow and to spread God’s kingdom to unbelievers.

Contextual Meaning.  The church in Corinth, like the Christian Church at the time was a relatively new entity.  The city of Corinth however, had been in existence for far longer.  In the time of Paul’s journeys and letters to the church in Corinth, the city had become a large thriving trade port, and the new capitol of the Achaea province, and home to somewhere around 100,000 people[3].  Because of its strategic placement and its great dealings and commerce with traders, it was a place of great importance and great prosperity.  With the vast amounts of people from many different parts of the world, there were many different religions and cults that thrived there many of which practiced sexually immoral activities.  The city’s upper class was concerned with only one thing as well, the accumulation of wealth.  Corinth became known, because of these things as a city of evil and use of the word “Corinthian” even became an adjective, associating that which was being described as immoral or sexual[4].

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth comes to them in the midst of all this as an answer to the questions and assumptions of the Corinthian people.  At the time that Paul write his first letter to the Corinthian church, many sins were running rampant throughout the church there.  Many people in the Corinthian church had developed the opinion that they were free to do whatever they wanted.  They abused their Christian liberty in many ways and had great spiritual pride.  These sins were all an extension of the Corinthian culture that prevailed during the time[5].  Paul wrote to combat these issues and direct them in the ways of properly living as a Christians.  To the Corinthians at the time, what Paul had to say flew drastically in the face of the way they were living; they were literally polar opposites.

After expounding for several chapters on the worldly issues that the Corinthian congregation was facing, Paul turns his attention to things inside the church and the spiritual matters that plagued its congregation.  One particular issue that Paul addressed that was pertinent to them at the time was the issue of spiritual gifts and their proper use.  The congregation in Corinth had seen obvious signs of the spirit moving though the manifestation of various spiritual gifts and Paul says that he would not have them be ignorant about them[6].  Whether or not they had any knowledge of them before this letter is unclear[7], but if other aspects of Christianity were being bent to fit into the culture of Corinth, it would be fair for Paul to assume that the gifts of the Spirit could be and probably were misunderstood.  Paul seeks to fix that in the later chapters of first Corinthians when he talks about the various gifts that the spirit has to offer and how useful they all are.  He also, to quell the quarreling and division that was going on in the church at the time, makes the point that all spiritual gifts come from the same Spirit.  Paul makes it very clear by the end of chapter twelve, that though there are many parts of the church, like there are many gifts of the spirit, they are all useful and necessary.

Paul wants the people of Corinth to pursue all Spiritual gifts so long as they make sure that love, which is most important, is kept in the forefront of their minds.  This is why he starts chapter fourteen with a continuation of chapter thirteen, “follow the way of love[8],” or “pursue love[9].”  These words clearly set love apart as the number one thing that the church in Corinth should be pursuing.  Calvin says that love “should take an honored place in their dealings with each other” and by doing so the use of spiritual gifts would be kept under control[10].  He is saying this because of the apparent abuse of the gifts they were being given, this is his way of turning them from their self-seeking attitudes and help focus them in on what is most important[11].

After making clear to the Corinthian church that what is more important than any gift is love, He ventures into tackling not just a dispute between two spiritual gifts, but the reason why certain gifts should be used more and are more edifying to the church body.  Again, Paul is making it clear that he wants the church to pursue all spiritual gifts but he sets apart prophecy as a gift that is better than others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.  It isn’t that Paul doesn’t think much of the other spiritual gifts, he is just establishing, as Calvin writes, the “pride of place” that prophecy should get[12].  Naturally though, words like this require some explanation.  One cannot just simply say that one spiritual gift is better than another without giving some sort of a reason for it; they are gifts of the spirit given by God as a sign of God’s presence.

To really understand Paul’s argument, one must truly understand what some of the words he used mean.  Prophecy is a word that is often misunderstood to simply the telling of the future, but this is not the only meaning this word can hold.  Prophecy in the context that Paul was writing about is the gift of speaking an inspired message which often times had to do with obedience to God.  Many times this included Old Testament writings or inspired utterances directed at a person or people[13].  The gift of speaking in tongues on the other hand, was understood as to speak, tell or proclaim[14] something in a different language, tongue or even a strange spiritual language that is not of this world[15].  Without too much thought one can see that these gifts, though both are inspired by the spirit, are very different and can have very different effects on the church body.  In this context Paul continues his defense of his statement that the gift of prophecy is better than the gift of tongues.

The gift of speaking in tongues, though great and awe inspiring comes with some obvious disadvantages.  If someone starts speaking in a different language suddenly, no one will know what that person is saying.  It is because of this that Paul says that anyone speaking in tongues speaks only to the Lord.  Calvin points out that the gift of tongues is more “showy” than that of prophecy, probably due to the fact that when someone does begin to suddenly speak in a language other than their own, people can be filled with awe and wonderment, which is not necessarily the case when it comes to the gift of prophecy[16].  Paul points out here that this thought process is obviously flawed because speech in another language, though miraculous, does nothing for the church in the way of helping it or building it up.  Notice though, that Paul does not say that it is bad to speak in tongues, just that it is not helpful to the church body as a whole unless, as he goes on to say in v. 13, there is someone to interpret the speech.  This is an excellent rebuttal to a question that could have easily been asked, as Calvin again points out.  Paul wanted to make sure that there is still an opening for the gift of speaking in tongues and to make sure that it was known that the gift was not useless[17].

Prophecy is the contrast that Paul makes to his audience in Corinth.  He says in v. 3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation[18].”  This is yet another reason to support Paul’s argument of prophecy being better than speaking in tongues.  When a non-believer is present, He says later in v. 24, he will hear, understand and possibly be convicted by the prophecy[19].  In this way then, the church as a whole will be built up and the Word of the Lord and the good news of the Gospel spread.  This is simply a hypothetical statement that Paul makes, but one to prove his point.  If an unbeliever hears someone speaking in tongues, he may think that the person speaking is mad.  This encounter with a manifestation of the Spirit does not produce a conversion[20].  On the contrary though, an unbeliever that hears someone speaking in tongues is convicted, converted, and worships God because of it.  The application for the Corinthians here is rather obvious and as Paul works through is explanation he offers more and more examples and reasoning for what he is saying, thus making his argument irrefutable.

Contemporary meaning.  Point for point, Paul’s desire is for the church to be built up through the use of the gifts of the spirit.  In his entire explanation of why he thinks prophecy is better than speaking in tongues, he bases his argument on the good that it would do for the church as a whole.  If the gift of tongues could do this better, Paul’s letter would have reflected it.  This idea or building the church as a whole and working for the betterment of believers is not something uncommon to the church today either.  In the pursuits as a Christian community, the church, and its people, should seek to do what it can to build up those around them and win people over for Christ.

One thing that makes sense and something that Chester points out is the somewhat negative acceptance that the gift of tongues receives from those on the outside[21].  This can go for both Christians and non-Christians alike.  If someone walks into a church next Sunday and hears someone speaking in tongues, they probably won’t know how to take it.  If one doesn’t understand it, and has never heard or heard of it before, it will very possibly be a turn off for them.  On the other hand though, the person could be in awe at the gift.  What Paul is saying though is that if there is no interpretation for what is said in tongues, the message that was coming through it, which was presumably from God, is lost and no one is edified or built up because of it.  Again, this is why Paul calls for interpretation when speaking in tongues.  This is a principle that should and often is applied in churches today.  In many Pentecostal churches and others that believe in and allow the speaking in tongues gift in public worship, an interpretation is not only expected but anticipated when a person proclaims something in a different tongue.  This is in direct line with what Paul says in First Corinthians.  Instead of having random utterances and proclamations that disrupt the service, this gift is used as a channel to proclaim God’s message and build up the body.

One doesn’t often hear of the gift of prophecy in church anymore.  Though it is still relevant and applicable with today’s Christians, the greater point that Paul is trying to make is what the Church body should look at; the gifts of the Spirit should be used to build up the church and win people over for Christ, not for self edification or showiness.  Paul makes this point over and over again.  His entire argument is based on it, and the application that Christians today can take out of it comes also from it.  Paul likens the misuse of spiritual gifts poorly played, out of tune instruments.  An audience would hardly stand for a performance where instruments were indistinguishable and played incorrectly.  Likewise, the misuse of Spiritual gifts both then and now can turn a captive crowd away from the gospel and therefore give a bad name to the church and the people in it.  Furthermore, the name of Christ and the message of salvation are tarnished when Spiritual gifts are abused.  Christians must avoid these things in an effort to spread the good news.

Paul summarizes this point very well earlier in his letter when he says, “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial[22].”  Paul makes this point time and again to address the argument of Christian Freedom, an issue that was highly used by the Corinthians to defend their actions[23].  Paul goes on to say, “”Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others[24].”  Paul’s point here that as witnesses for Christ Jesus, we should be pursuing thing that are for the good of others.  It isn’t that the gift of tongues was bad; it was that it was being used improperly.  Even with the best of intentions, today’s believers can misuse and abuse God and the gifts He gives them.  Paul reminds every Christian everywhere that there is a higher calling, to sets their minds on things above[25] and not waste time in the foolish pursuits of the world.

Paul sums up his argument about Spiritual gifts rather elegantly at the end of chapter four-teen when he says “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way[26].”  As a church body, Christians should always be encouraging of the use of spiritual gifts.  As Paul says at the beginning of his argument, “Pursue spiritual gifts,” but follow in the way of love[27].  This is the application, and even the calling for Christians today.  God has blessed Christians with gifts, this is an obvious fact; it now lies on those being blessed to work to build up the church and help to spread the message of grace and salvation to all people.


[1] Life Application Study Bible, New International Version.  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1991).  Pg. 2059.

[2] Today’s Parallel Bible.  New International Version, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2000)  Pg 2631-32.

[3] Bimson, John J. ed .”Baker Encyclopedia of Biblical Places.”  (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press: 1995). Pg. 92-93.

[4] Myers, Allen C. ed.  The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary.  (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1987).  Pg. 235.

[5] Grocheide, F.W.  “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1953). Pg. 16.

[6] 1 Corinthians 12:2  NIV

[7] Grosheide, “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  Pg. 279.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New International Version

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New American Standard Bible

[10] Calvin, Jean.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1960). Pg 285.

[11] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[12] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 286.

[13] Goodrick, Edward W. & John R. Kohlenberger III.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1999).  Pg 1588.

[14] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1566.

[15] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1538, 1553.

[16] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[17] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 290.

[18] 1 Corinthians 14:3 NASB

[19] 1 Corinthians 14:24 NIV

[20] Chester, Stephen J.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”  Journal of the Study of the New Testament.  (London, SAGE Publications: 2005). Pg 417.

[21]Chester.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”   Pg 419.

[22] 1 Corinthians 10:23a NIV

[23] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 220.

[24] 1 Corinthians 10:23b-24 NIV

[25] Colossians 3:2 NIV

[26] 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 NIV

[27] 1 Corinthians 14:1-2 NASB