“Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts…” — Part One
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“Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts…” — Part One

A church is most effective when its members discover and use their God-given giftedness. Through spiritual gifts, God enables Christians to mature in faith and to worship, witness, and serve so that others are drawn to His Son. As Alistair Begg warns us, when we get involved in ministries for which we are not gifted, disenchantment and disruption are inevitable. The Church thrives, however, when we all fulfill our appointed roles.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 6

Concerning Spiritual Gifts 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40 Series ID: 14606

Sermon Transcript: Print

Let’s take our Bibles and turn to the portion of Scripture that was read for us in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Here in the opening section of this chapter, we’re introduced—as the heading, perhaps, in your Bible will point out—to the whole question of spiritual gifts.

Although Paul was in Corinth and we’re in Cleveland, separated by both chronology and geography, we discover now what he discovered then—namely, that the whole question of spiritual gifts was something that was touched by confusion and by controversy. There was misunderstanding and abuse in first-century Corinth. There is misunderstanding and abuse in twentieth-century Cleveland.

The thought has probably crossed your mind just why it is that this whole arena of spiritual giftedness should be the focus of so much disruption and confusion. The answer must surely lie in the fact that the Evil One, recognizing how vital the correct use of spiritual gifts is both to the health and the effectiveness of the church, seeks to sow division, confusion, and uncertainty in order to foster amongst the people of God ignorance and unbelief. Because there is perhaps no other area of the church’s life, certainly in the last forty years, that has been beset by so much unbelievable stuff that has surrounded it. No other area of Christian doctrine has been subjected to so much disruptive confusion. And one can only but believe that the Evil One is alive and well and at work in this area because it is so pivotal in the life of the Christian and in the effective movement of the church of Jesus Christ.

I’d like to try and summarize the opening section here—and we’ll go no further than the third verse this evening—under three headings. First of all, in verse 1, we will notice the information they required; in verse 2, the superstition they recalled; and in verse 3, the explanation they received.

The Information They Required

First of all, then, the information they required.

This opening phrase which Paul uses, “Now about”—and then he adds “spiritual gifts”—is the same phrase that we’ve been finding as we’ve gone through 1 Corinthians. It comes a little differently, but it is the same phrase in Greek. For example, at the beginning of chapter 7, he says, “Now for the matters you wrote about,” and then in chapter 8, at its inception, “Now about food sacrificed to idols.” And now, here he comes in 12:1 to this whole matter of spiritual gifts.

The Corinthians had written to the apostle Paul and in the course of their letter had asked advice and clarification on a whole variety of subjects. And in addressing these subjects as he goes through, Paul takes them one at a time. Their concern is about pneumatikos, which is an indeterminate gender in the Greek. It could refer simply to “spiritual people,” or it may refer to “spiritual things” and therefore, by deduction and in relationship to the context, be referring to “spiritual gifts.”

On account of this, Phillips uses… His paraphrase in verse 1, it reads as follows: “Now I want to give you some further information in some spiritual matters.” And again, as I say, the context, as we read on through the chapter—indeed, through the next three chapters—is clearly this whole issue of spirituality.

What are the evidences of spirituality? Or if you like, what are the key evidences of spirituality? Who are the really spiritual people? That was the question in Corinth, and that, frankly, remains a question this evening. Then as now, people were tempted to believe that spectacular giftedness was the real evidence of spiritual maturity—a spectacular giftedness in comparison with which the practice of basic Christian virtue seemed fairly colorless and, frankly, rather boring.

And if you think about it, just jumping forward in our minds: here we are this evening in the context of the contemporary church, and many of us are tempted to believe the exact same thing that was the cause of confusion in Corinth—namely, that the really spiritual people are the people who are able to manifest dramatic things in and through their lives, whether it be a dramatic gift in proclamation, whether it be a dramatic ability to prophesy, to forthtell, whether it be the ability to speak in tongues, whether it be the intervention of God in their lives with gifts of healing, whatever it was—tempted to believe that it is in these things that we can determine the nature of true spirituality.

In the giving of spiritual gifts and in the exercise of these gifts, God chooses to mature his people and unleash them into areas of ministry and usefulness for his kingdom.

It was therefore vitally important, and it remains vitally important, that the church of Jesus Christ pays attention to these matters. And so he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant.” This, again, is one of Paul’s favorite phrases. He uses it to introduce matters which are exceptionally important. When he says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant,” in actual fact he wants us to be absolutely clear, and he uses this phraseology throughout many of his epistles. I won’t take time to turn you to them, but if you are taking notes, I’ll give you some illustrations: Romans 1:13, Romans 11:25, 1 Corinthians 10:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:13. You will find him introducing matters of extreme importance by using the phrase “I do not want you to be ignorant.”

Now, the word there for ignorant is agnoeō, from which we get our English word agnostic. He says, “I don’t want you Corinthian believers to be in any doubt, to be uncertain, about these spiritual matters relating to the whole nature of spirituality. Because if you are ignorant, if you are clueless, if you are agnostic, if you are unclear, then you will be susceptible to wrong teaching; and as a result of imbibing wrong teaching, there will then be wrong living; and if there is wrong living, then there will be ineffectiveness in the body of Christ.” For the gifts which God gives to his people are essential for the effectiveness of the church, for it is in the giving of these gifts and in the exercise of these gifts that God chooses to mature his people and unleash them into areas of ministry and usefulness for his kingdom.

And again I say to you, it is on account of the fact that Satan understands and recognizes this that he is so keen to be involved in counterfeiting and in confusing. And he recognizes that he has got a great gain when as a result of his activities, the believer is tempted to ignore or to neglect the importance of spiritual gifts. And that, of course, is what has happened in a number of places. In a sort of fierce reaction to so much chaos, now many churches have apparently almost thrown the baby out with the bathwater. And if you read their doctrinal statement or you read what they have to write about things, they’re very clear about everything that they do not believe about many things, but if you ask them what they actually believe concerning it on a positive basis, they’re hard-pressed to give any kind of a sensible explanation.

In the most practical of terms, as we’re going to see in going through 1 Corinthians 12, the church will always stumble—that is, the local church will always stumble on its way—when ignorance leads to people pursuing tasks of ministry for which they have never been gifted. And when people start to be involved in ministry where there clearly is no gift, then disenchantment, disgruntlement, and disruption is inevitable.

Now, sometime during these studies, I think I’ll bring a few golf clubs along with me as an actual illustration. But, for example, God has put all the gifts in the body just where he wants them to be. He has dispersed gifts just as he intended. He is manifestly and manifoldly wise in the doing of that. And if he has made you a putter, if I may use golfing terminology, you are foolish if you seek to live as a sand wedge. Because a sand wedge is in the bag and probably won’t be used—hopefully won’t be used—very much in a round at all, and when it is taken out, it is used to cut through the sand and the grit and the grain, and it is presumably painful to the face of the club. It is brief; it is vital; it is the only club in the bag that can be used effectively and continually in that way. And it’s absolute foolishness, as you sometimes see—except in the strangest of circumstances—when people determine that they will try and putt out of a sand trap.

Now, the church of Jesus Christ and local churches, when they begin to understand the nature of spiritual gifting, are on the very knife edge of a dramatic development of ministry. And it surely is not a matter of happenstance that at this particular juncture in our church’s life we should have arrived at 1 Corinthians chapter 12, 13, and 14. Because we are in need of a course in the nature of, discovery of, and implementation of spiritual gifts. For we have a small number of people doing a tremendous amount of stuff and a large number of people doing, frankly, very little. The way in which that is going to be rectified is by the Spirit of God making clear to the people of God just why it is he has placed us in this church at this time and why he has given to us gifts for the express purpose of doing his will.

That’s why in Ephesians 4:11 and following, Paul makes perfectly clear that without this coming to an understanding of the nature and function of spiritual gifts within the church, believers will always end up somewhat stultified and immature. And that’s why—and you can turn to this, it’s page 828—it was Christ “who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service.” Okay? So that the Bible may come alive in people’s lives, that they may discover the reality of the work and ministry of the Spirit of God, that they may be coming to an understanding of spiritual giftedness. And these gifts are given not as toys to be played with, not as trophies to be put in a cabinet, but as tools to be used in the service of the kingdom. And the task of these folks is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be” edified or “built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Now, when this happens, says Paul, that’s when we say goodbye to infancy.[1] Until this happens, we live in infancy. “Then we will no longer be infants.” What are infants like? Well, they’re “tossed back and forth by the waves.” One minute they’re blown here, and then they’re blown there. And every kind of cunning “wind of teaching” and “the cunning … craftiness of men” in “deceitful scheming” moves them all over the place. “Instead [of this],” he says, “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ,” from whom “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”[2]

The effectiveness of this Parkside Church is directly related to you, as an individual member of the church, discovering and implementing your God-given giftedness. And while the things that must inevitably come from these studies—if it doesn’t, then they are less than they ought to be—one thing that ought to come is that people who, right now as I talk to you, and you’re sitting there, and you’re processing this, and you’re saying, “I don’t know if I have a spiritual gift. And if I’ve got it, I don’t know what it is. And certainly, since I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if I’m using it. And if I don’t know if I’m using it, I’m probably not using it. And if I’m not using it, I am doing some things. And maybe the things I’m doing I shouldn’t be doing, because I’ve got no notion whether that’s a spiritual gift or not.”

So, as we process these things, let us understand—and I quote one of my friends here—he says, “Spiritual gifts are divine enablements for ministry.” They are “characteristics of Jesus Christ that are to be manifested through the body corporate just as they were manifested through the body incarnate.”[3] Okay? So Jesus Christ in his incarnate body manifested his giftedness. Now he has gone, he has given the Holy Spirit, he’s at the right hand of the Father on high, and he manifests his giftedness now through his body. “Each gift the Holy Spirit now gives to believers had its perfect expression in Jesus’ own life and ministry. His church continues to live out His life on earth through the power of His Spirit working through His gifted people.”[4]

This is exciting! This ought to fill you with a sense of expectancy. It ought to raise within your heart and my heart, too, a consciousness of the fact that if we come to these studies prayerfully, if we come expectantly, if we come humbly, then the result of them ought to be that we will never, ever be the same again—that as much as in any other area of study, this particular series of studies should dramatically impact Parkside Church at this point in its history. I wonder, would you pray to that end and encourage others to do the same?

The reason that he didn’t want them to be ignorant was because that kind of ignorance wasn’t bliss, but that kind of ignorance was confusion, it was ineffectiveness, and it was disintegration. It was important for them and for us to know that by means of these gifts, God’s people are enabled to grow, to worship, to witness, and to serve.

The Superstition They Recalled

So that, then, is the information they required. That’s what he mentions in verse 1. Then, when he comes to verse 2, he confronts them with the superstition they recalled.

This isn’t the first time that Paul has encouraged them to think about their pre-Christian experience. For example, even in 1 Corinthians 1:26, he reminds them, he says to them, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.” “Just think about it: before you came to faith in Jesus Christ, what were you like?” He uses the same approach here. He says, “You know that when you were pagans, before you ever came to faith in Jesus Christ, there were certain things that marked your lives.” And the things that marked their lives were superstitious pagan practices.

Now, a little background is probably helpful here. The pagan cults of both Greece and Rome were part of what are commonly called the “mystery religions.” These people, before they came to faith in Jesus Christ, lived in an environment that was occultic, it was superstitious, it was bizarre, it was dramatic, it was ecstatic; it was just a pulsating environment of all manner of weird forms of spirituality. When we trace the mystery religions to their root as we find it in Scripture, we will find ourselves back in Genesis chapter 11 at the Tower of Babel, because it was there in the Tower of Babel that people said, “Now, what we’re going to do is we will eventually mound up to the heavens, and we will take care of things,” essentially, “from this point out.”[5] The idolatrous practices which were in their embryonic form in Genesis 11, down through history, have scattered their seeds far and wide. And consequently, when we read history, when we read anthropology, we find all this stuff about gods and goddesses popping up all over the place.

Now, for our kind of mechanistic, scientific, rationalistic mind, having grown up in the last hundred years in twentieth-century America, we find it hard to identify with this. But the people to whom he was writing understood exactly what he was talking about. When we read of Aphrodite of Greece, or of Venus of Rome, or of Ishtar of Syria, or of Astarte of Phoenicia, or of Isis of Egypt—in every case, the worship of these nonentities known as gods and goddesses find their root in Genesis 11 and find their expression in two things: number one, in ecstasy; number two, in immorality. All of the mystery religion was marked by ecstatic activity and by immoral activity.

And so he calls them to think back to their pre-Christian experience, to the paganism from which they have come. He has already, you will recall—and we’ve done this in our studies—tackled very carefully the matter of immorality, which they had clearly carried with them into the church of Corinth. That is why there were all kind of lewd sexual practices going on, some of them even within the framework of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul has addressed that head-on.

Now, as he comes to the matter of spiritual gifts, he is going to tackle this question of ecstasy. These people understood that ecstasy was a kind of supernatural, sensuous communion with a deity. It was dramatic, it was bizarre, it was obvious, and it appealed to the natural man. Now, what has changed in twenty centuries? Not a lot! Because within the framework of the Christian church and on the fringes of the Christian church, it remains true today that the ecstatic, the dramatic, and the bizarre has an immense appeal. And consequently, untaught Christians can be drawn into all manner of experiences because they are unable to identify counterfeit because they have never been introduced to the real thing.

Now, you can sense where Paul is going with this. The Corinthian believers were confusing ecstasy with spirituality. They had a thing called enthousiasmos—from which we obviously get enthusiasm—but enthousiasmos was an expression which revealed itself in mantic formulas, in divination, in revelatory dreams, and in visions. And the Corinthians confused ecstasy with spirituality and enthousiasmos with spiritual power. They were lacking in discernment, and therefore, they were tempted to assume that what is dramatic must be divine; that because something works, it must be wonderful; and that power is the touchstone of reality.

Let me say that again, because it is so apropos our day. The Corinthian problem was this, and it is a problem that is a twentieth-century problem: untaught Christians came to assume that because something was dramatic, it must be divine; that because it worked, it must be wonderful; and because it was powerful, it must be reality.

Now, notice how Paul appeals not to their emotions but to their minds. He says, “Now, think about what you know.” “Use your brains,” he says. “Think this out. You know that before you were saved, you were led and you were influenced by two things. You were influenced by your own depravity on the inside, and you were influenced by the attractions of Satan on the outside.” “Somehow or other,” he says, “you were influenced and [you were] led astray to mute idols.”

Now, loved ones, this addresses very carefully and very clearly for us the condition of men and women outside of Jesus Christ. I don’t suggest that we go out from here to use this verse as an introduction to personal evangelism, particularly tomorrow morning. But when you encounter your friends tomorrow morning, realize this: that they are pagans, and that somehow or another they are influenced and they are led astray, and the place where they end up is with dumb, mute idols. They live with an illusion of freedom while all the time they’re in bondage. They think they can really see things when all the time they’re really blind. And they are held in captivity.

Now, let me just turn you to Ephesians in order to drive this home, to verses that you know well: Ephesians chapter 2. Again he uses the same process. He says, “Now, let me tell you what you were before you came to Christ.” He says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and [in your] sins.” This is that “in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and … the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”[6] So he says, “The spirit of the Evil One was at work in you in your pagan life.”

If you turn forward to Ephesians 4:17, he says, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles,” or the pagans, “do, in the futility of their thinking.” And then he explains what the futility of their thinking is: “They[’re] darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” Then he says, “You, however, [you] did[n’t] come to know [Jesus] Christ in that way.”

When he writes to Titus in chapter 3, he explains the dramatic intervention of God. Titus 3:3: “At one time,” he says, “we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived … enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” Listen, folks—let’s just pause for a moment here and find out if we understand this and if we believe this about our non-Christian friends. The problem with our non-Christian friends is not somehow that they’re unhappy and they need to be happy. It’s not that somehow they’ve got gaps in their life that they need some kind of spiritual experience to fill up. It’s not that they’re lost and they need a little bit of direction. It is not that they feel guilty and they need to be freed ultimately from their guilt. It is simply this: that they are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by passions and pleasures, they live in malice and in envy, people hate them, and they hate one another. This is a wonderful explanation of what we read about in our magazines and what we read about in our newspapers. This is why we’ve got the problem we’ve got.

So when the Spirit of God takes somebody out of that background, drops him in the church, this is gonna be pretty interesting, isn’t it? ’Cause here comes brother George. He’s been a Christian for two days now. Last week he was deceived, he was destructive, he was hated, he was being hated, he was led astray to mute idols, he was committed to matters of sensuality, and he met Christ at the crossroads, the Spirit of God has regenerated him, and now he’s within the church. Do you think he’s got some junk hanging off the back of him? Do you think he’s got some confusion in his mind about what really took place? Do you think that he might be tempted to drag some of that pre-Christian experience right into his new Christian experience? Do you think that he might be prepared to bring some of the stuff, as it were, from out there in here? Of course! And he does. And she does.

And that is why, unless the Bible is taught to baby Christians, they remain baby Christians. They neither understand what they’ve come from nor do they understand what they’ve come to. We march them in here and speak to them in a language that is complete, unbelievable gobbledygook. They get about 30 percent on a good Sunday and 5 percent on a bad Sunday, and they’re searching around here for somebody in this church who will be to them their spiritual confidante, guide, and the answerer of their questions.

Most of them think I’m their guy, so they come to me. It doesn’t take them long with me to realize I’m not, and I need to send them back to you, because you are—unless, of course, you don’t understand that God gave you spiritual gifts so that you would be able to minister to these dear folks when they come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Unless the Bible is taught to baby Christians, they remain baby Christians.

How could it ever be that we would have difficulty in a church of this size of putting together an effective discipleship program for new Christians? Is it because we don’t have enough Christians that can take new, baby Christians through the first five weeks of what it means to be a Christian? No! How would it be that we would have such difficulty in launching discipleship/evangelism programs in this church? Is it because nobody understands discipleship and nobody understands evangelism? No! It’s because fifteen hundred people are sitting out there waiting for somebody up here to initiate everything that always happens.

God gave you spiritual gifts—you!—so that you may be useful. And all of the previous life that we brought out of paganism leads only to confusion. Therefore, we need to sit and be taught; we need to be taught as we teach; we need to grow as we learn—so that when we recall what was our past, we will be able to help the new Christian who is still entrammeled by so much that they bring to this newfound Christian faith as a result of being of having been made brand-new.

The believer’s life is dramatically different. “Previously,” he says, “you worshipped dumb idols, you worshipped false gods.” And people today are coming to faith in Christ from the worshipping of mute idols. What it means here—and that’s why it’s helpful in the NIV—it translates it “mute idols.” In other words, they can’t speak. You can pray to them, but they can’t answer. You can ask for help, but they can’t say anything. You can confess your sins, but they can’t forgive you. You can long for their power, but they can’t unleash it.

The Explanation They Received

Now, why does Paul take time on this? He takes time on this because the Corinthians were bringing their baggage from the past into their experience of the present. They were finding obvious and great difficulty in distinguishing between what was fake and what was real—understanding true worship as opposed to perverted concepts.

And so, in helping them out, Paul in verse 3—and with this we conclude—makes clear what the real issue in relationship to spirituality is. It is, he says, the matter of the lordship of Jesus Christ. All spiritual gifts must ultimately be brought to this touchstone. There’s a great sanity and practicality about this, which is helpful tonight as it was helpful then. All right? Our final point. We looked first of all at the information they required, then at the superstition they recalled, and, finally, at the explanation they received.

“Therefore I tell you,” he says—and you need to know this—“that no one who[’s] speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say,” in reality, “‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” What did Jesus say of the Spirit’s ministry? He said that the burning desire of the Holy Spirit would be to glorify him. John 16:14: the Holy Spirit, he said, “will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” This is Paul’s overall criterion for genuineness in the matter of spirituality.

A number of commentaries that I read were at pains to suggest that this phrase on the lips of this individual, “Jesus be cursed,” is a hypothetical situation. The commentaries point out, “Surely no Christian, even in the chaos of Corinth, is going to make such a statement.” I’m not so sure. When things get crazy, they get really crazy. If you get yourself wrapped up in a situation where you’re prepared to believe just about anything that comes your way because it is dramatic or bizarre, you will eventually, if you’re untaught, be led to believe even in heresy. And if you’ve never been in this kind of context, just thank God and take my word for it. ’Cause I don’t need to go to Corinth to reveal this kind of expression.

I think Leon Morris is probably more on track when he suggests that… And you need to look at Galatians 3 for a minute here. Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who … hung on a tree.’” Okay, so we have this thing that they would have known from somewhere that there was a deal about “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” The Jews would certainly understand that. They repeated it with frequency, and they denied the reality of Jesus on the basis of it. And Leon Morris says, “It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some excitable and imperfectly instructed Corinthian had distorted [Galatians 3:13 by means of some] ecstatic utterance.”[7]

So because it was coming out in a different language, because it was being expressed in the framework of a sensuous, ecstatic environment, people began to say, “You know what? You’ve got to admit, man, that’s powerful! I mean, you’ve gotta admit there’s something happening there. You’ve gotta admit that—I don’t know what it is, but it’s something.” You hear young Christians talk like this all of the time. And so Paul makes it clear. “Make sure,” he says, “that you don’t begin to judge accuracy and orthodoxy on the basis of experience rather than on the basis of content.”

This is why I labor with you—this is why we labor in this church—to teach systematically and consecutively through the Bible. It’s challenging both for teacher and for hearer—there is no question about that. There are a hundred other ways to go at the average Sunday in this church that would be fifty times easier for you and a hundred times easier for me. I can do it. I’ve got more stories than you’ve ever heard. I’ve got more jokes than I’m prepared to tell. I’ve got more sentimentality in my little Scottish backbone than many of you have ever encountered. I’ve got it all there. I don’t do it. I won’t do it. I am shut up to the Word of God, because I want to see that “after my departure,” as Peter said, “you will … be able to [recall] these things,”[8] you will be grounded in the truth, and you will not become susceptible to the rogues and the vagabonds who may come in amongst you to draw away even sensible people after themselves.

I’ve been in churches where people have come into the church and, while the worship service was going on, had set themself up in another room within the building, claiming that they had the true touchstone on spirituality and they understood it. They even at one time barricaded the whole church and locked all the pastors and all the elders and everybody out of the church except the people who had come into the same ecstatic experience of “the Spirit of God” that they believed was the touchstone of reality. We’re talking about Scotland. We’re talking about boring places. We’re talking about routine situations. I tell you, if they can do it there, there’s no saying what they can pull off here.

Now, let me wrap this up. The fact that there were impressive signs of power was causing them to fail to think critically. The fact that it was taking place in the context of the church by someone who made great claims of spiritual power was causing them to abandon wise judgment and to embrace foolishness. Content was being ignored. It was being lost sight of under the dramatic and the bizarre. As then, so now. “Okay,” says Paul, “when you were pagans, we can understand that kind of confusion. But now that you are believers, how can you fail to recognize the counterfeit?”

So notice that the test is doctrinal. We will never be able to spot what is counterfeit until we have a thorough grasp of the genuine. What a person truly believes about the lordship of Jesus Christ is the test of whether or not what he teaches and does is by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always leads men and women to ascribe lordship to Jesus Christ as one indivisible person, one to be obeyed and to be obeyed completely. And obviously, the issue “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” is the matter of sincere confession. Anybody can mouth the words “Jesus is Lord.” But nobody can make a sensitive, true, heartfelt expression of that unless they are truly in Christ.

That comes across very clearly even in the words and ministry of Jesus himself. In Matthew 7:21 he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And “many people will come to me in that day, and they’ll say, ‘Lord, didn’t we get involved in ecstatic stuff? Didn’t we prophesy in your name? And in your name didn’t we drive out demons? And in your name didn’t we perform many miracles?’ And then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”[9]

So it is possible, by means of phenomenal, dramatic displays, to bring the deluded in your train. And if you’re good from a pulpit like this, all you need to do is close your Bible and draw people after you—stay dramatic, stay emphatic, stay dogmatic—and weak-willed people will follow in your track.

So Paul says, “We better have an objective standard by which we’re going to assess all of this.” To confess “Jesus is Lord” means nothing unless it involves the affirming of his person and of his work and the obeying of his commands. Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I tell you?”[10] He says, “Don’t use my name—don’t call me ‘Lord’ and disobey me.” You can only say and mean “Jesus is Lord” by the ministry of the Spirit dramatized in a life of wholehearted obedience.

Now, we’ll go on from there next time. The fact is, it’s not a human discovery; it’s a spiritual one. The statement can be made only where the Spirit of God is at work within the heart.

Be prayerful about these studies, won’t you? We’re going to get into territory in a diverse church such as this, people coming from all kinds of backgrounds… And I know a number of you are just sitting there—you just can’t wait for this stuff. And I’m glad that you can’t wait. But this is too crucial to fiddle with, dear ones. You understand that, don’t you? That the Spirit of God has given gifts to the church, so that God’s Spirit has been given to God’s people so that God’s world might be drawn to God’s Son.

So when we sit in here on Sunday nights, this is not an end; this is a means to an end. Every Sunday school class, every discovery of fresh biblical truth, is not an end; it is a means to an end. And the end is this: that those who tonight are trapped and led astray to all kinds of “mute idols” may come to stand here in this baptismal pool and declare, “Jesus is Lord,” because you and I exercise the gifts God gave in the power of his Spirit so that those who tonight do not know may come to know.

God’s Spirit has been given to God’s people so that God’s world might be drawn to God’s Son.

Let us pray together:

Our God and our Father, we thank you for the intense practicality of the book here as we read it, for the great spiritual wisdom of Paul. We thank you for the timeless impact of its truth. We pray that you would save us from speculative tendencies; that you will give to us a genuine desire to know you, to love you, to be filled with all the fullness of your Spirit, and to manifest in our lives the evidences of your abiding presence. We ask this in order that you may be glorified as we bring forth much fruit and so prove to be your disciples.

Thank you for today. Thank you for one another. Thank you for all that we have discovered of your grace and your provision.

And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior be glory and majesty, dominion and power, tonight and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See Ephesians 4:14.

[2] Ephesians 4:14–16 (NIV 1984).

[3] John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1984), 283.

[4] MacArthur, 283.

[5] See Genesis 11:1–9.

[6] Ephesians 2:1–2 (NIV 1984).

[7] Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1958), 168.

[8] 2 Peter 1:15 (NIV 1984).

[9] Matthew 7:22–23 (paraphrased).

[10] Luke 6:46 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.