Risk Takers for Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Frequently in the Gospel accounts, Jesus teaches us to be watchful for his return. Mark 13:33 reads: “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.” Likewise, Luke 12:35 echoes the Parable of the Ten Virgins: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.” But right after the Parable of the Ten Virgins we read an enignmatic Parable of the Talents that not only talks about watchfulness, but also gives guidance on how to wait.

First Two Servants

The parable starts off with advice about being watchful, but then goes on: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (Matt 25:14-15) But then we are told how the first two servants invest the master’s money and double his principal, ,while the third servant buries the master’s money in ground. When the master returns, he settles accounts with each of the servants. The first two servants present the master with his principal and the earnings from their investments. In both cases, the master responds with the same statement: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:21,23) Clearly, the money grants were a test, the master is pleased, and the master rewards them with greater responsibility.

The Third Servant

The case of the third servant is most revealing because he acts out of fear: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matt25:24-25) The master calls this servant “wicked and slothful” and reiterates his characterization by the servant as a hard man, suggesting that he agrees that he is, but he goes on to suggest: “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” Matt (25:27) In so many words, the master suggests that the third servant is both cowardly and imprudent, because depositing the money with a banker requires accepting very little risk of financial loss. The master takes the money given to the third servant and gives it to the first. Then, the third servant is described as worthless and condemned to perdition, a penalty too harsh for many modern people to even to hear.

Context of the Parable

So what are we to make of this parable? The first thing to note is the context. Immediately after the Parable of the Talents is parable of judgment, where the goats and the sheep are separated. Then, in chapter 26 of Matthew we read: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matt 26:1-2) The implication is that the three parables in chapter 25 are given to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and second coming. All three suggest that the disciples should be watchful of Christ’s return, but only the Parable of the Talents suggests how to spend the time while Jesus is absent.

Lesson

What is the lesson? Knowing that Christ will return, we should be cheerful in our work, not fearful, as we take risks with our spiritual gifts to advance the Kingdom of God. Cheerful risk takers, not fearful hoarders, are the one’s described as good and faithful servants.

Risk Takers for Christ

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Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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1 Corinthians 14: Spiritual Gifts Build the Body

Diane_painting_flowers_06022014By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.  Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (vv 18-19)

How do spiritual gifts affect Christian worship?

The weekend last year when I commenced at seminary, I visited a new church.  The guest preacher was a close friend and I sought his blessing over my ministry.  The service was video-taped and streamed online. The music was lively; the prayer was deep; the congregation was engaged. People danced, waved flags, sounded ram’s horns, and testified to God’s power in their daily lives. This congregation actively celebrated the gifts of the spirit [1].

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he sought to channel the expression of spiritual gifts to build up the church (v 4).  He made his point by comparing two gifts:  speaking in tongues and prophecy.  Paul describes the gift of tongues as the language of angels (13 v 1), a spiritual prayer language (v 13), and a manner suitable for speaking with God (v 28) [2].  He describes prophesy having at least 3 purposes:  building people up, encouraging people, and providing consolation (v 3).  Because Paul engages in both speaking in tongues (v 18) and prophesy (13 v 9) [3], he is using these gifts to make a point, not to discourage their practice.

Paul makes several points in preferring prophecy over speaking in tongues during worship, including:

  • The one who speaks in tongues speaks to God, but the one who prophesies speaks to people (vv  2-3);
  • The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church (v 4);
  • Prophesy is to be preferred to speaking in tongues (unless someone interprets the tongues) because prophesy builds up the church (v 5).
  • Prophesy involves spirit and mind (inferred), but speaking in tongues involve only the spirit (v 14);
  • Prophesy reaches unbelievers, while speaking in tongues does not and may distract them (vv 23-24); and
  • …tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. (v 22)

Paul himself speaks in tongues, but only in private (vv 18-19).

Paul’s teaching on worship focuses on building up the body of Christ, both by encouraging believers and welcoming unbelievers.  He suggests 2-3 people speak in tongues, if they have interpreters, and, likewise, 2-3 people prophesy (vv 27-29).  For Paul, worshiping decently and in order (v 40) accordingly implies moderation in the public display of spirituality, not its absence.

Footnotes

[1] All Nations Church, Charlotte, NC (www.ChavdaMinistries.org).

[2] Elsewhere, the Gospel of Mark reports: And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18 ESV)

[3] Paul’s description of his conversion and call suggests that he viewed himself called to be a prophet in the Old Testament tradition like Ezekiel. For example, the Greek in Acts 26:16 ἀνάστηθι καὶ στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (arise and stand on your feet; Acts 26:16 BNT) compares closely with Ezekiel’s words: στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (stand on your feet; Ezek 2:1 BGT).

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 13?
  3. Does verse 1 belong in chapter 13 or 14? Why?
  4. Which gifts does Paul emphasize? (v 1)
  5. What comparison does Paul make in verses 2 and 3?
  6. Why does Paul spend so much time comparing the gift of tongues and prophecy? (vv 2-32)
  7. What points does he make about prophecy? (vv 2-32)
  8. What points does he make about speaking in tongues? (vv 2-32)
  9. Which gift does prefer? Which gift does he practice?  Why?
  10. What does Paul recommend the church do? (vv 27-33,39-40)
  11. How important are Paul’s instructions on the gifts? (vv 36-38)
  12. How do you interpret verses 34-35? Why?
  13. What is Paul’s summary conclusion? (vv 39-40)

1 Corinthians 14: Spiritual Gifts Build the Body

First Corinthians 15

First Corinthians 13

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1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope, and Love

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).

Attitudes matter.  When we exercise spiritual gifts, do we seek to glorify God or ourselves?

One of the hardest things to do is to give God the glory and not focus on ourselves.  Praying an ACTS prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—is helpful, for example, because our impulse is to cut straight to supplication—the give me (gimme) part of prayer.  Because God already knows our needs, we are better advised simply to praise God and trust that he will meet our needs.  Focusing on the gimme part of prayer hints that we do not fully trust God; the same is true when we express our love for other people.

Two false views of love are very popular today.  One is a grasping, selfish—stalker—kind of love.  Stalker love says:  if I cannot have you, then no one else can either.  For example, Beetle musician John Lennon was murdered in 1980 not by an enemy, but by a fan who earlier in the day had even sought an autograph from him[1].  The stalker’s love is rooted in desire to possess, not to share affection or relationship.

Another false view of love arises not from the desire to possess, but to project self on the object of our desire. The classic example is that of a parent living vicariously through the child. Unfulfilled ambitions are projected onto the child and the child is then manipulated to live out a hidden script.  Alternatively, a child may simply never be allowed to wander outside the shadow of the parent to develop fully as a person.  These same dynamics can also occur for highly dependent spouses.  This false view of love is motivated by a desire to control explicitly or implicitly.

The context for Paul’s comments about love is the expression of spiritual gifts.  In chapter 12, Paul makes the point that the Holy Spirit is the source of all spiritual gifts (12 v 11) and the purpose of the gifts is to serve the body of Christ (12 v 7).  Here in chapter 13, Paul makes the point that spiritual gifts not motivated by love for one another are not so spiritual.  Speaking in tongues without love, for example, is like beating your own drum (gong or cymbal; v 1).  This same theme continues even in chapter 14 where Paul gives explicit advice about using gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy, properly in worship (14 v 4).

Clearly, like us the Corinthians do not have a proper attitude about gifts and they misunderstand the meaning of love.  Paul redefines love using the word, agape[2].  He does not use either phileo[3] often translated as brotherly love (think Philadelphia—the city of brotherly love).  He also does not use eros[4] usually translated as romantic love.  This humble, sacrificial definition of agape is unique to Paul (vv 4-7).

After defining agape, Paul goes on to suggest that he himself at one point held childish views which he gave up in adulthood—a polite way of suggesting they are childish in their view of love (v 11).  He then goes on to attribute this agape love to God himself, alluding to Moses’ encounter—face to face—with God on Mount Sinai (v 12; Numbers 12:8).  The argument is if God expresses a humble, sacrificial love, then we should too.

While Paul’s lesson here is about having a proper attitude about spiritual gifts, he also is careful to balance his view of agape love with faith and hope.  Love is not simply a warm, fuzzy feeling.   Paul balance faith, hope, and love in at least 4 other places in his letters[5].  Faith and hope balance love by anchoring it in our relationship with God.

Footnotes

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_John_Lennon

[2] ἀγάπη (BDAG 39)—the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love–without limitation to very intimate relationships, and very seldom in general Greek of sexual attraction.

[3] φιλέω (BDAG 7742)—to have a special interest in someone or something frequently with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.

[4] ἔρως (BDAG 3145)—passionate interest…ardor fondness.

[5] See:  (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; Colossians 1:3-5; and Ephesians 1:15-21).

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 12?
  3. What is the context for chapter 13? What does this suggest about the topic of the chapter?
  4. What does false love look like? Alternatively, how might spiritual gifts be misused? (v 1)
  5. The three words for love in Greek are: agape, philo, and eros.  What do they mean?
  6. What validates prophecy, knowledge, faith, generosity and martyrdom? (vv 2-3)
  7. What are the attributes of agape love? What are the opposite of these attributes? (vv 4-8)
  8. What is the key attribute of agape love? (vv 8-10, 12) Who does this remind you of?
  9. What does it mean to be a man and not a child? (v 11)
  10. What does the mirror analogy remind you of? (v 12; Numbers 12:8)
  11. Why does Paul group faith, hope, and love (v 13). What is different about Paul’s use of faith, hope, and love here?  (See: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; Colossians 1:3-5; and Ephesian 1:15-21)
  12. How is this chapter misused?

1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope, and Love

First Corinthians 14

First Corinthians 12

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1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (vv 4-6).

Are your talents a gift?

The Apostle Paul is not shy about discussing the role of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he begins a 3-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts.  Hays (207)[1] sees this chapter divided into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction (vv 1-3);
  2. Manifestations of the Spirit (vv 4-11);
  3. Body analogy (vv 12-26); and
  4. Application to gifts and offices of the in the church (vv 27-31).

In his introduction, Paul grabs the bull by the horns and says:  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (v 1).  This direct approach is most interesting—these days we often read of churches torn up by controversies—often outright sin—that were allowed to grow in the shadows.  Paul does not let mold grow in the shade; he confronts controversy head on.  And he claims all things for Christ—no one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit (v 3).

In discussing manifestation of the Spirit, Paul sees a Trinitarian (Spirit, Lord, and God) variety of gifts, services, and activities (vv 4-6).  In claiming all gifts, services, and activities for God, none is excluded and none is more important than the other.  Theologians get excited about Paul’s Trinitarian statement because it seems off the cuff rather than the focus of his comments.  In other words, Paul experiences God in three persons even though his does not articulate a formal theology of the Trinity (Hays 210).

Paul use of the body as an analogy for the church is interesting, in part, because he reframes the analogy from his peers.  Ancient authors often used the same analogy to argue for hierarchy in the social order; Paul uses it to illustrate diversity and interdependence (Hays 213).  In undertaking his discussion, he tailors his comments to the particular needs of the Corinthian church which becomes obvious in comparing the list of spiritual gifts with other lists that he provides, for example, in Ephesians 4:11-13 and Romans 12:6-8.  Neither alternative list, for example, cites speaking in tongues (v 10).  Clearly, Paul’s emphasis in listing gifts is not on the list, but on the legitimacy and use of each gift to build up the body of the church.

In wrapping up his comments, he exhorts the Corinthians to strive to work in building up the church and in attaining the “higher gifts” (vv 27 and 31).  One suspects in reading this section that Paul prioritizes spiritual gifts, in part, because Corinthian priorities were different.

One clue to this deficiency is Paul’s switch in words used in the Greek for gifts.  In verse one, a gift is πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; mostly in the sense pertaining to wind or breath) already in verse 4 Paul switches to χάρισμα (BDAG 7896; that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift).  In switching from an emphasis on the receiver of the gift to an emphasis on the giver, Paul highlights the role of the Holy Spirit.  A spiritual gift is a talent used to build up the body of Christ.

Are you musical?  Do you work well with kids?  How might your gift be used to build up the church?

Footnotes

[1] Richard B. Hays.  2011. Interpretations:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 11?
  3. What is your definition of a spiritual gift? (v 1) What is Paul’s? (vv 7-11)
  4. Why does Paul ask the Corinthians about spiritual gifts? (vv 1-2)
  5. How does one speak in the spirit? (v 3)
  6. Read verses 4-6.What stands out?  Where do gifts, service, and activities arise?
  7. What spiritual gifts does Paul list? (vv 7-11) Why?
  8. Who gets what gift? (v 11)
  9. How does Paul’s example of the body relate to his discussion of spiritual gifts? (vv 11-27)
  10. What does Paul say about divisions in the body? (vv 24-26)
  11. What does Paul say about suffering? (v 26)
  12. What are the higher gifts? (vv 28-31)
  13. What is the higher way that Paul describes? (v 31)

1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

First Corinthians 13

First Corinthians 11

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