What’s your church like? Do you ever get asked that question? Sometimes it’s by people who are thinking about faith and wondering whether or not your church is somewhere they would be comfortable and be able to find out more. Sometimes another Christian asks it and its out of genuine interest. Sometimes we get asked the question and sometimes we ask it for the wrong reason don’t we? It becomes part of the competitive spirit we’ve talked about over the past few weeks.Sadly, churches can become proud. Instead of knowing that we are on the same side we treat each other as competitors. Are more people attending? Is it growing faster? Are the preachers likely to get invited to Keswick or Spring Harvest anytime soon? Is the music good? Worst of all, we dress up our rivalries and personal preferences in holy language. Is your church sound? Is your church a Spirit filled church?
So what does it mean to be Spirit filled as a church?
I want to suggest four questions to ask ourselves
– Is our trust and dependence completely in God and him alone? (V 1 -5)
– Are our priorities and values God’s priorities and values? (V 6 -9)
– Does what we know and think come from God’s revelation? (V 10 -14)
– Do we find true assurance in knowing God? (v15-16)
- Is our trust and dependence completely in God and him alone? (V 1 -5)
Paul reminds the Corinthians about when he first came to preach the Gospel to them. Now, they would have been used to the rhetoric of Greek philosophers and debaters. The purpose of the rhetoric was to win arguments. t was also about showing status and influence. You were trained in rhetoric. There were correct tools and techniques to use. Things haven’t changed that much, if you are taking your English GCSE then you have to learn how to write to persuade. You are taught how to use particular words and phrases. Similarly, politicians are taught how to come across well on TV, hand gestures, eye contact, little anecdotes, remembering and using someone’s name etc.
Paul says “I didn’t use all of that stuff.” Paul didn’t try to blow them away with fine rhetoric or clever arguments. He didn’t use the tools of the trade to set himself on a pedestal over them. Instead, he simply came and told them about Jesus, the saviour who died for them. In fact, his approach was so shorn of the devices and style of the debaters that he came across as weak and timid. The weakness may have suggested an illness or simply that the Corinthians did not think much of him, helackedf physical presence and charisma. Fear and trembling suggests humility not just in front of the Corinthians but more importantly, before God.
But do you notice that despite the apparent lack of persuasion, power, cleverness, God was at work in power. Paul says that he “relied on the power of the Holy Spirit.” What does he mean by this? Some people think that he is referring to the use of spiritual gifts to do miracles. Now we know that God did use Paul to heal the sick and cast out demons but I don’t think that’s primarily what he’s getting at here or that would contradict everything he’s aid so far about power and signs verses weakness. No, the Holy Spirit’s power was seen in this.
- The message of the Cross was proclaimed
- People put their trust in the Christ of the Cross
- Lives were changed.
The Holy Spirit’s power is the power to bring life where there has been death, forgiveness where there has been sin, hope where there has been despair, wholeness where there has been brokenness. This power is not separate to the preaching of the Cross. Rather, it’s when people discover their need for a saviour, it’s when they repent and believe in Christ that they find these things.
Why does Paul do this? The answer is simple. He wants people to put their trust in God not in him or any other man. This is important. If you find your faith in a preacher’s ability to argue then what happens when that preacher has a crisis of faith and starts expressing doubts? If you are mainly responding to the emotion and experience of a gathering then what happens when you can no longer get to that gathering?
It’s much better to keep our trust in the Cross. Look at what Christ did for you. He has saved you. See what Christ is doing in you. He is transforming you. Look forward in hope – he is coming back for you.
- Are our priorities and values God’s priorities and values? (V 6 -9)
Although people find the Gospel foolish and although Paul didn’t rely on rhetoric or clever arguments, that doesn’t mean he was talking nonsense. He says “Look I do actually offer wisdom.” What is this wisdom? Well notice its characteristics
- It’s wisdom for the mature/complete -really this simply means everyone who is in Christ who have received the goal of salvation
- It’s a wisdom that the rulers and powers of this age … i.e. humanity in rebellion against God cannot grasp or understand as represented by its leaders the powerful the worldly wise etc who serve hostile spiritual powers.
- It’s a wisdom that has been a hidden mystery – but God had planned this in advance to revealed to us – and this was for our glory (ie – the goal of our salvation)
When Paul talks about “mature believers” (v 6) or really simply “the mature” or “the complete” he isn’t talking about a special breed of super Christians. The point is that everyone who is in Christ is in one sense complete, particularly when we have learnt to put Christ first and serve him with our whole lives. We have our new identity; we have been justified. So, this is wisdom for all who are in Christ.
Paul says that this is a wisdom that the rulers or powers and authorities of this World cannot get. Why not. I think the point is simply this, if your focus is on achieving power, glory, riches, fame then your focus is solely on yourself. You become blind to what else is happening around you. You become deaf to the voice of reason and truth. It’s why we say that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Some of you will have experienced this in work. Have you noticed that you can turn up to a meeting with stacks of evidence and data that proves convincingly that a course of action is the right one. Yet someone else can completely dismiss it and insist that the only reasonably way forward is theirs.
But it’s true for all of us. If my focus is on getting what I want. If my confidence is in my own abilities then I won’t hear God speak to me. I won’t be able to see what he is doing.
That’s why it’s important to value God’s values. If as a church we value success, popularity, comfort then we will be deaf to the Holy Spirit because we will be working to our own agenda. Bill Hybels talks about how churches can have shadow visions. He means that we can say that we are running our ministries and meetings to serve the Gospel but really we have our own vision. For example, we want a church that is comfortable, a church that is made up of people who are like us, a church that enables us to fulfil our own personal dreams and ambitions. Now put that starkly we want to say “that’s not me, not us.” But remember he’s not trying to point the finger or accuse. It’s simply a reminder of human weakness and how motives can get confused. So this is a challenge for each of us individually and as a church. Do we serve when not seen, give without getting back, love the unlovely? That’s what happens when we are in Christ – that’s really what it’s about to be mature.
You see God’s wisdom is seen in his purpose, his priority – the Gospel (v8). Paul describes this as something that was hidden, a mystery. Paul often uses the word “mystery “ to show how the good news is something planned before creation (v7) but fully revealed in Jesus. All through the ages people asked the question “How will all the mess, disorder, pain, suffering and evil get put right?” The answer is it happens in Jesus.
See as well that this is actually for our “glory” (v 7). Elsewhere, Paul will say that when we sinned we fell short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). In other words, we were made in God’s image with a purpose -to reflect his glory, to worship him and to rule his creation for him. Sin robbed us of that role, identity and status. Our rebellion means that we are fallen. The Gospel raises us back up to what we are meant to be in Christ.
And Paul’s response to this is to break out in praise. He quotes Isaiah 64:4 (v 9). This prophecy was a plea for the incomparable, awesome covenant God to step into history, reveal his character and defeat his enemies so that all would bow in worship. What Isaiah pleaded for, God has done in Jesus. By the way, I think this is another way of saying that the sign that the Jews demanded had actually been given in Jesus but they had missed it completely.
Don’t miss what God has done, is doing and will do in Christ.
- Does what we know and think come from God’s revelation? (V 10 -14)
God has revealed to us what all the brightest and best of the world have missed (v 10). How does he do it? The answer is through the Holy Spirit coming and revealing God’s truth to us
Paul uses a fantastic example to show this. Remember that when we talk about the Holy Spirit we are talking about a member of the Trinity. Christians believe in one God who exists as three persons. So when we talk about the Spirit, we are talking about God.
If you want to know what someone is really thinking or feeling you have to ask them (v11). That’s why we get narked when others try to tell us what we are thinking or feeling and when they question our motives. Mind you, even when you ask someone, you might still not get a satisfactory answer. And then there’s always the risk that if you ask your husband what he’s thinking about then he’ll say “nothing.” It’s amazing isn’t it that people will build whole religious systems and self-help courses on how to mediate by emptying your mind completely and finding inner peace. I find that sitting in the passenger seat of our car heading up the M6 does that perfectly for me. But that’s off topic!
So if you want to know the truth about God, his purposes, his character, his plan for you and me, how to live in the world that he has made, what do you need to do? You need to ask Him. The Holy Spirit is God and so knows God’s mind.
Verse 12 tells us that we can know God’s mind because we have the Holy Spirit with us. In other words we know him, we can talk with him, we can hear him speak to us. Paul says that if you don’t have the Spirit you can’t hear God speak, you can’t know his revelation (v 14).
Paul says that we use the words the Spirit gives to us to explain spiritual things (v13). In other words, to know God’s priorities and values, we need to listen to the Spirit. We can’t just make things up for ourselves. The second part of the verse could either have the idea that we “teach spiritual things to spiritual people2 or that we “teach spiritual things with spiritual words” or “words from the Holy Spirit.” It might be helpful to think of “spiritual” as referring to “God’s things” and “God’s people “ or “Gospel things” and “Gospel people.” The point is that if we want to know about he things of God, then we need to listen to God’s revelation about them.
So what are these words that the Spirit gives? Where do we find them? How do we hear him? “All Scripture is God breathed.” ( 1 Timothy 3:16). The Holy Spirit has inspired Scripture and works in our minds to help us understand it, our hearts so we love it and our wills to enable us to obey and follow it. A Spirit filled church will be a church where God’s Word is central, heard, taught, believed, followed.
Do you take time to find out what God’s Word says. Are you engaging as we apply God’s Word to our church? Are you ready to do what God’s Word asks you to do?
- Do we find true assurance in knowing God? (v15-16)
Paul finishes this section with the assurance that we can know God. We are in Christ and so we have his mind. All believers have the Holy Spirit. A church where there are believers trusting God, hearing his word, loving him and the things he loves is a Spirit filled church. Believers have insight and discernment so that we can live wisely. We can live good lives, pleasing to God.
This also means that a Spirit filled church is one where those who belong to God know that they are not judged. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
So how would we answer those questions for ourselves and for our congregation? Let’s pray that God will be at work in us to make us the church he wants us to be. Let’s trust him to be present with us through his Holy Spirit.