“Be Zealous For the Spiritual Gifts”
1 Cor. 14:1
I have often said that the Christian life is nothing if not life in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit begins this life and perfects it (Gal. 3:3; Jn. 6:63).
The first-work of the Holy Spirit, the “Third Person of the Trinity,” is to set the chosen aside “for salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13-14). Every verse in the New Testament that refers to our having been elected or chosen or predestined includes this work of the Spirit.
The second work of the Spirit is when He baptizes us into the body of Christ, the church. It is during this promised baptism of the Holy Spirit that we are gifted with spiritual gifts as determined by the Trinity (1Cor. 12:3-13). The manifestation of spiritual gifts is given to us for the profit of all. They bring pleasure and edification to us when used as proscribed by Scripture.
The third work of the Spirit is to begin the life-long processes of sanctification and teaching into the lives of the babes in Christ. He is sent in part to teach us about Jesus Christ after having brought us to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit's work, if you will, is to lead us through this life in such a way that we will glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and bear witness of Him to this dark and perishing age. All that we have as those who have been reconciled to our Creator is ours precisely because the Holy Spirit has applied the finished work of redemption and reconciliation and sanctification of Jesus to our souls. That is the chief work of the Holy Spirit and the primary purpose of His gifts.
In the passage that is on my heart this morning, 1 Corinthians 14:1, I find two imperatives, one telling us to “pursue love,” the other telling us to “be zealous for spiritual gifts.” Both verbs are present tense verbs, letting us know that we are to be continually pursuing love and continually zealous for the spiritual gifts He has given us as the church and as individual believers through all ages. This would be impossible to obey if it were true that the giving of spiritual gifts and therefore the gifts themselves ceased after the deaths of the apostles and after “that which is perfect is come” (1 Cor. 13:8ff). If that interpretation were correct, it must be then, that 1) the gifts have ceased and, 2) that which is perfect is come, both of which necessarily negate the second of Paul's two imperatives in our verse. So if you are reading 1 Corinthians 12-14 when the gifts have ceased and that which is perfect is come, you must ignore this imperative and all that Paul says about at least certain gifts in these 3 chapters.
Here, for your consideration, is a list I have compiled off the top of my head of the blessings of the Holy Spirit preceded by every occurrence of the Greek word translated “spiritual” (at times it is just “spiritual,” at other times it is “spiritual gifts.” The context determines the usage) pneumatiko.j
Rom 1:11; 7:14; 15:27; 1 Cor 2:13, 15; 3:1; 9:11; 10:3f; 12:1; 14:1, 37; 15:44, 46; Gal 6:1; Eph 1:3; 5:19; 6:12; Col 1:9; 3:16; 1 Pet 2:5
- We were prepared by the Holy Spirit for faith in Jesus. Jn. 6:44-45; 2 Thess. 2:13-14
- We are born again by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our inner man. Jn. 3:3-7
- We are gifted by the Holy Spirit that we might be edified and that we might edify the church. 1 Cor. 12-14
- The Holy Spirit is our source of assurance when He moves us to cry “Abba, Father.”
- We are led by the Spirit. Rom. 8:15; Gal.4:6)
- We put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. Rom. 8:13
- We understand the deep things of God because we have the Holy Spirit, we have the mind of Christ. 1 Cor. 2:16
- We can be filled with the Spirit. Eph. 5:18ff
- We can live by the Spirit, thereby not fulfilling the lust of the flesh. Gal. 5:16
- We are the recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit as part of the New Covenant promise that fulfills the covenant God made with Abraham. Gal. 3:7-14
- We were sealed by the Holy Spirit the very moment we were saved. Eph. 1:13
- We know Jesus Christ as Lord solely by the grace of God through His working in us by the Holy Spirit. Mt. 16:17
- We are no longer under the law but under grace precisely because of the finished work of Jesus being applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit. Gal. 5:16-18
- We “both will and work for His good pleasure” because the Spirit is working in us. (Phil. 2:13).
As wonderful is our being indwelt and gifted by the Holy Spirit, we must never misread His presence as blessing us simply for our sensual pleasures, the very serious error practiced by many Pentecostals and charismatics. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God by His grace through faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a spiritual “Toys R Us.” I have times when being filled with the Spirit is for me fun, enjoyable, emotional, pleasurable, and so exciting I feel like I will burst if I don't praise my Father immediately. So rather than bursting, I praise Him. But His redemptive work and His enabling and empowering and teaching and His sanctifying work and His glorifying Jesus work are His chief reasons for indwelling us as directed by our Father.
DOES GOD YET SPEAK?
Does God still speak to the spirits or the “minds” (Rom. 7:22, 25; 2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16
the “inner man”) of those who have by His grace (and even some who have not) come to saving faith in Jesus? Well, let me ask this, is God mute? Has He for some reason gone “dumb,” unable to speak?
Of course He still speaks to His children by His Spirit who teaches us and guides us and rebukes us and corrects us and works in us “to both will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13; 1 Cor. 2:8-16). These are not “extra biblical revelations” spoken by so many present day false teachers and false prophets. But they are words of understanding and wisdom and knowledge and insight inspired by the Spirit in the minds of believers in accordance with the revealed will of God, revealed in the written word of God.
This means that God through the Holy Spirit speaks to us in accordance with His written word . We are hearing from Him when we discern spirits or when we are given a “word of wisdom” or a “word of knowledge” or when we are praying for the sick (that's what “the prayer of faith” is, the assurance from God that He is going to heal someone). The Holy Spirit is conversing with us when we suddenly come to see something in the written word that we've never seen before. He converses with us when we know something that could only be made known to us by divine intervention. He converses through the gift of prophecy when someone opens up Scripture to us. He converses with us when one speaks in tongues and another gives the interpretation (and even privately when there is no one to interpret).
WE ARE TO BE ZEALOUS FOR THE GIFT HE HAS GIVEN US
The Greek word behind our English word found in many of our translations as “seek,” is actually the word where we get our word “zeal,” or to fit with the verb in our text, “to be zealous.” We are not being told to seek spiritual gifts but rather to be zealous for the gift that we possess. We have already seen in chapter 12 that we have been gifted by the Spirit as He wills. Now we are to be zealous for our gift and to use it for the glory of God and the good of the body of Christ. Or, if you like, we are to be zealously seeking to master the God-glorifying gift(s) we have been given.
FOR THOSE WHO DISAGREE, A QUESTION OR TWO
We (I read 1 Corinthians 14:1 to be written for us in the 21st century as well as those in the 1st) are commanded to “pursue love and desire (be zealous for) spiritual gifts.” Here are my thoughts on those commands, especially the second one: This was written by a man filled with the Holy Spirit. The same man who would in just a few breathes write the famous “love chapter” where He would pen the “when that which is perfect is come” verse. It flies in the face of logic and the context of this verse in the word of God that Paul is telling the church universal to be zealous for something they will not be able to be zealous for and ever expect to receive, the spiritual gifts, if your interpretation of this chapter is correct.
If you are correct, then this is what is implied, “Be zealous for spiritual gifts, unless of course, you are reading this portion of the inspired word of God when the perfect is come and the giving of the gifts and the gifts themselves have ceased. Once the perfect is come and the sign gifts have ceased you may ignore this verse and most of what you know as chapters 12 through 14. Once that which is perfect is come, the Bible, which oddly enough retained these words of the apostle, then the sign gifts have ceased and you seek them in vain because they, in fact, have ceased. Never mind the fact that all that I wrote concerning the gifts and your being zealous for them is still there, in that which is perfect. Confusing and rather cruel, wouldn't you say!”