Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Speaking In Tongues

Biblegems #23
Here’s a really great question that came from one Biblegems reader: “Is speaking in tongues something that the church should encourage all its members to do?”

The Bible describes speaking in tongues as one of the many spiritual gifts God has given His church for building up the Body of Christ and reaching the lost for Jesus.

However, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, does give a significant amount of advice on the appropriate use of the spiritual gift of tongues. In that passage he makes two very interesting statements regarding whether Christians should be encouraged to speak in tongues. In verse 5 he writes, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” Then, in verse thirty-nine he adds, “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”

As a matter of personal opinion, Paul thought every believer would benefit from the experience of speaking in tongues. Used privately, it is a very personal, private form of prayer. In that case, “…anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit” (14:2).

But in terms of using the gift for the benefit of other believers gathered as the church, it is beneficial only if someone can interpret what is said. In that case, the gift functions much like the gift of prophecy and is a blessing to everybody, not just the person using it. That’s why Paul says in verse six, “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?”

In verse thirty-nine, where he says, “do not forbid speaking in tongues,” he still has in view using the gift in an assembled group of believers. In other words, he is saying, ‘be careful how you use the gift in public worship.’ Speaking in tongues should never draw attention to itself. Non-Christians who might visit the church would easily be turned off by people speaking out loud in tongues, convinced they were probably nuts (v. 23)! Speaking in tongues would actually turn people away from Jesus instead of to Him.

So, in answer to the question, “Is speaking in tongues something that the church should encourage all its members to do?” — all believers should eagerly desire the gifts of the Spirit (14:1), and be content with the gifts the Holy Spirit chooses to give us (1 Cor. 12:11). And of course, when used in gatherings of the church, “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:40).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Are Angels Perfect?

Biblegems #22
In Ezekiel 28:12, a passage that has a dual application to the ancient king of Tyre and the even more ancient angel Lucifer, who rebelled against God, reads: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.’” The angel Lucifer is described as the “model of perfection” in both the spiritual and physical.
There are two Hebrew phrases translated into English as “perfection” in Ezekiel 28:12. The first carries the idea of one who has a ‘seal of perfection,’ while the second pictures one whose wisdom is “full” and whose beauty is complete, or “whole,” nothing lacking. The angel Lucifer is described has having been stamped by God Himself as perfect in every respect.
So, as a created being, Lucifer was “blameless” and without defect (Ezek. 28:14-15). But he succumbed to pride and rebelled, pitting himself against the Most High God (Is. 14:14). He also engaged a vast number of other angels in his rebellion, for whom God designed a place of punishment fit for beings who can never die (Matt. 25:41). Clearly, then, part of God’s “perfect” design for angelic beings included the ability to exercise choice.

The capacity to sin is not what makes a being imperfect. If that were the case, Adam and Eve would have been imperfect beings at the time of their creation. As it was, however, God was extremely pleased with mankind as the pinnacle of Creation, declaring it all to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
What does this mean for the angels in heaven today?

All the angels, including those who rebelled, were created at one time (Job 38:4-7). Those who remained faithful to God when Lucifer and his cohorts rebelled remember how he was dishonored and stripped of his power, wisdom and beauty (Is. 14:12-15). They see their fallen brethren begging to be attached to some kind of physical life form like so many parasites (Matt. 28:28-32). They see the eternal fire that awaits the devil and his angels following the Millennial Reign of Christ (Rev. 20:10; Matt. 25:41). The angels in heaven made their choice long ago and have no desire to become part of the demonic horde headed for an eternity in hell. They are more than content to sing the praises of Him who sits on the Throne (Re. 7:11-12).

Are the angels perfect? Yes—all those who did not forfeit their first estate but remained faithful to God who made them perfect. They know their perfection is not their own but is a gift from their Creator.

Their choice long ago is our choice everyday. And like the angels, we were designed to worship God with undivided hearts and minds, willingly surrendering all to Him who has placed before us an eternity before His throne where our voices will join that of the angels in everlasting praise.
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. — Rev. 5:11-14

Should Women Teach In Church?

Biblegems #21
1 Timothy chapter 2, which we looked at last week in relation to women being ”saved through childbearing,” has another vexing question, this time in verse 12. The verse reads, I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

The question is—does the Bible teach that a woman should not teach or have authority over a man as a blanket, universal rule?

To answer this question several factors need to be considered: immediate context, Paul’s teaching on the subject elsewhere, historical / cultural considerations and a definition of terms.

The immediate context, beginning with verse 8, is dealing with the public worship of the church. In that context, men are to “lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger and disputing. It’s worth noting that the emphasis here is on the attitudes and behavior while praying, not a command to raise hands in public prayer. Yet some could argue, if they chose to ignore common sense, that Paul is making a universal instruction that all men have to raise their hands when praying. Common sense is part of the interpretive process.

In this public worship context, then, Paul advises Timothy to instruct women to dress modestly to avoid creating temptation for the men present (9-10). He also stresses that women “should learn in quietness and full submission” (11). This instruction is actually closely related to the next, that a woman is not to ”teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent” (12). What is critical contextually is that all this instruction is specific to public worship.

So what does Paul teach elsewhere that might shed further light on this subject?

In 1 Cor. 14:34, where Paul is also dealing with propriety in public worship, he gives an almost identical instruction: “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” However, here—unlike 1 Timothy 2—Paul explains the reason for this prohibition in verses 33 and 35. Verse 33 says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” This relates to a situation in the early church that was becoming increasingly problematic as Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. 

Women from the Greco-Roman world, unlike Jewish women who had come to Christ, had no training in appropriate behavior in public worship. Additionally, they were thrilled with their new-found freedom in Christ that encouraged them to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18, speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:5) and freely contribute in other ways in public worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). This freedom spilled over inappropriately into the time set aside for the preaching of the Word. They would interrupt the preacher to ask questions: “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35). 

The context makes it clear that the kind of “speaking” that is disgraceful for a woman to engage in is that which is disruptive and disrespectful. It should be kept in mind here also that the word “church” does not refer to the building, but has its literal meaning of “assembly,” referring to their gathering for public worship.

This all fits in perfectly with Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11 that “women should learn in quietness and full submission.” The setting Paul refers to is during the “learning” phase of the public worship service. And the term “full submission,” according to Vine, means “a warning against the usurpation of authority, as, e.g., in the next verse.”1 It was a caution to be respectful during the public preaching of God’s Word. Women are to recognize and respect the authority of the elders, who are male by definition, as they present the Word of God to the assembled believers.

1 Vines, as quoted in the Expositors Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, J.D. Douglas, Associate Editor, Accordance Bible Software, in loc.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Saved Through Childbearing

Biblegems #20
The next Biblegems question come from 1 Timothy chapter 2. The question comes from Paul’s teaching in verse 15 that women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (NIV). What does the Bible mean when it says that women will be saved through childbearing? Saved from what? —you might ask.

As is usually the case, the answer is found primarily in the context. In this case, the previous verses reveal that the apostle Paul is concerned about the impact cultural norms of the day are having upon the spiritual health of women in the Church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:1). These Christian women are predominantly Gentile (non-Jewish), and therefore much less modest in their dress, and much more inclined to “dress-up” (v.9) than their Jewish counterparts. In a public worship setting (2:11-12), this could cause temptation for the men and disdain from the Jewish women who had been trained from childhood to identify godliness with extreme modesty and simple, unadorned attire (Gen. 24:65).

Another important connection in the context comes from Paul’s allusion to the account of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. Paul stresses the point here that it was Eve, not Adam, who had been deceived. While Adam had his own role to play in outright disobedience, Paul’s purpose in this text seems to be to highlight the fact that Eve was enticed by an outside influence that offered her more than what God had ordained for her. She was tempted to experience right from wrong, to “know” more than God had permitted her to know, to “be” more than God had designed for her to be. By yielding to that temptation, Eve brought upon herself, and upon her female descendants, a level of pain in childbearing that was never part of God’s original design.

Giving birth is at the very epicenter of what it means to be female. To have that joyful experience shrouded in pain created a generational reminder of what happens when human beings step outside of God’s plan for their lives.
So Paul is using the phrase “saved through childbearing” as a euphemism, a figure of speech, meaning ‘saved through being content in her ordained role’ as a woman. The Greek culture of the first century church encouraged women to flaunt their bodies and their femininity—in other words, to be less than content with their God-given role as a wife and mother, set apart solely for her family. What does childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety,” save her from?
“... she would be saved from becoming a prey to the
social evils of the time and would take her part in the
maintenance of the testimony of the local church.”1
1 Vines, as quoted in the Expositors Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor
J.D. Douglas, Associate Editor, Accordance Bible Software, in loc.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Joseph & Mary's Genealogies

Biblegems #19
What is the significance that in Jesus' genealogy Joseph and Mary were both descendants of David, but Joseph was from Solomon and Mary from Nathan? (Matthew 1; Luke 3)

This question touches on an important issue that skeptics frequently point to when discussing Jesus’ claim as Messiah. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Solomon and Nathan were brothers, each sons of king David. However, God revealed to king David that the Messiah who would sit on the throne of David forever would also descend from his son Solomon:
But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever (1 Chr. 22:9-10).

Matthew’s gospel clearly indicates Joseph’s legal lineage from David through Solomon. Jesus’ biological lineage to David is established through Mary, as shown in Luke’s gospel, who was a descendant of David through his son Nathan. While this does not connect her to God’s promise that the Messiah would be born through David’s son Solomon, it does link her and Jesus biologically to the seed of David.

Related to all of this is a prophecy in Jeremiah that skeptics of Jesus’ claim as Messiah often raise. The prophecy is found in Jeremiah 22:3 which reads:
This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.”

According to this prophecy, not one of the offspring of the wicked king Jeconiah, a descendant of Solomon in the Matthew genealogy, would ever sit on David’s throne. This would seem to disqualify Jesus. However, as Jesus was not Joseph’s biological son, he was also not biologically descended from Jeconiah. The virgin birth bypassed God’s curse on Jeconiah yet still permitted Jesus to be counted a legal heir of David's and Solomon’s throne—and biologically of the seed of David though Mary.
Once again, God is seen to fulfill all His promises, even when His own interactions with humanity would appear to put up walls impossible to scale. But, as Gabriel said to Mary, and as Jesus Himself would often remind His disciples, “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37; cf. Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27).

Do you have a question for Biblegems? Click the Comments link below and submit your question in the Comments box, or send your question to pastorcoleman@fbcma.org