Category: Educational

Preaching? This Bible Can Help.

Posted by on 08/14/2018 in:

Preaching? This Bible Can Help

Preaching soon, but not exactly sure what you’ll be saying? The NKJV Vines Expository Bible is jam-packed with helpful information: word studies, sermon outlines, and book introductions. Also, this resource is written by a name you can trust, Dr. Jerry Vines.

PREACHING WITH DR. JERRY VINES

Dr. Jerry Vines is a native of Carrollton, Georgia. He was educated at Mercer University (B.A.), New Orleans Theological Seminary (B.D.), and Luther Rice Seminary, (Th.D.). Dr. Vines accepted the call to be pastor at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, in July 1982 and retired from the pastorate in February of 2006. Additionally, He was elected President of the Alabama Pastors’ Conference in 1976, President of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference for 1976 -1977. He also served two terms as President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988 – 1989.

All this information tells us something: Dr. Jerry Vines has experience preaching and he knows how to do it well.

A WORD FROM THE PREACHER

Before we dig in too much (because we are definitely going to show you this inside of this awesome preaching resource!) let’s hear from Jerry. This quote comes directly from the introduction of the NKJV Vines Expository Bible.

Let me give you some ideas about how to get the most out of The Vines Expository Bible. At the beginning of each book, there is an “Introducing” section. This will give you some insight into how to understand that book’s content. More than 300 key word studies are available in “Discerning the Meaning” notes. Along the way you will find hundreds of “Applying the Message” and “Living the Message” articles.

The purpose of these is to show you how to apply the Bible truths from specific Scripture passages and live them out in your daily life. Along the way you will see a selection of over 200 of my expository sermon outlines in “Presenting the Message” sections. In the back of the Bible you will find a subject index, an NKJV concordance, and full-color Bible maps. — Dr. Jerry Vines

PREACHING WITH INTRODUCTIONS

Preaching (gif 1)

When you’re preparing a sermon, the first step is to remember the context of the passage you’re preaching on. The NKJV Vines Expository Bible gives concise and meaningful introductions to each book of the Bible so that you don’t have to spend tons of time searching for this information. Dr. Vines provides you with some of his thoughts and research on authorship, date, outline and themes before digging into the main text.

PREACHING WITH WORD STUDIES

Preaching - Word StudiesOftentimes, it can be difficult to pick a word to study and share with your listeners. You could spend hours researching most of the words in a passage! But, for those times that you are in a pinch, Dr. Vines picked out important key words throughout the entire Bible and did most of the research for you. Now, all you have to do is read the definition and tap on the green verses to read cross references.

PREACHING WITH APPLICATION

Certain passages only bring to mind specific application points. You’ve heard so many sermons on a passage that you can’t think of any other way to apply it! Or, vice versa, you may try to preach on a very unfamiliar passage, and be left wondering how this relates to anyone’s lives.

When preparing a sermon or lesson, it can be so helpful to read someone else’s application points. Most likely, these will inspire a way for you to uniquely apply the passage to your listeners, while staying within the context of the passage.

PREACHING WITH SERMON OUTLINES

Preaching (gif)Newer to preaching and would benefit from looking at possible sermon outlines? Dr. Vines has been teaching and preaching for years! So, he included many of his own sermon outlines. You can look them over, gain inspiration, make new connections, and prepare an awesome lesson for your listeners.

PREACHING WITH A CONCORDANCE

Preaching ConcordanceWant to see all the references to a specific word in the Bible? Dr. Vines provided a concordance in the back of this resource. Navigate quickly through the concordance by tapping on any of the green, hyper-linked letters and words! We guarantee that this will get the job done much faster than with a paper concordance!

PREACHING WITH BIBLE MAPS

Preaching MapsBring the Bible to life with maps. In the back of this resource, there are 14 full-color maps. Get the big picture, then zoom in and focus on the details. Then, share what you discovered with your congregation or small group! If you have a way to display your device on a large screen, you could even project our app and show the map to everyone!

GET THE NKJV VINES EXPOSITORY BIBLE

Ready to start preaching with the help of Dr. Jerry Vines? Purchase the NKJV Vines Expository Bible today.

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What is Application?

Posted by on 08/04/2018 in: ,

What is Application?

This content is taken directly from the Life Application Study Bible.

The best way to define application is to first determine what it is not. Application is not just accumulating knowledge. This helps us discover and understand facts and concepts, but it stops there. History is filled with philosophers who knew what the Bible said but failed to apply it to their lives, keeping them from believing and changing. Many think that understanding is the end goal of Bible study, but it is really only the beginning.

Application is not just illustration.

Illustration only tells us how someone else handled a similar situation. While we may empathize with that person, we still have little direction for our personal situation.

Application is not just making a passage “relevant.”

Making the Bible relevant only helps us to see that the same lessons that were true in Bible times are true today; it does not show us how to apply them to the problems and pressures of our individual lives.

What is it then?

Application begins by knowing and understanding God’s Word and its timeless truths. But you cannot stop there. If you do, God’s Word may not change your life, and it may become dull, difficult, tedious, and tiring. A good application focuses the truth of God’s Word, shows the reader what to do about what is being read, and motivates the reader to respond to what God is teaching. All three are essential to applying the Bible.

Application is putting into practice what we already know (see Mark 4:24 and Hebrews 5:14) and answering the question, “So what?” by confronting us with the right questions and motivating us to take action (see 1 John 2:5, 6 and James 2:17). Applying the Bible is deeply personal—unique for each individual. It is making a relevant truth a personal truth, and involves developing a strategy and action plan to live your life in harmony with the Bible. It is the Biblical “how to” of life.

Can application study Bible notes relevant to my life?

You may ask, “How can your application notes be relevant to my life?” Each application note [in the Life Application Study Bible] has three parts:

  1. an explanation that ties the note directly to the Scripture passage and sets up the truth that is being taught
  2. the bridge that explains the timeless truth and makes it relevant for today
  3. the application that shows you how to take the timeless truth and apply it to your personal situation.

No note, by itself, can apply Scripture directly to your life. It can only teach, direct, lead, guide, inspire, recommend, and urge. It can give you the resources and direction you need to apply the Bible; but only you can take these resources and put them into practice.

What makes a good tool for Bible study application?

A good note, therefore, should not only give you knowledge and understanding, but point you to application. Before you buy any kind of resource Bible, you should evaluate the notes and ask the following questions:

  1. Does the note contain enough information to help me understand the point of the Scripture passage?
  2. Does the note assume I know too much?
  3. Do the notes touch most of life’s experiences?
  4. Does the note avoid denominational bias?
  5. Does the note help me apply God’s Word?

LEARN MORE

The Life Application Study Bible is unlike any study Bible you’ve used before. It comes with the Bible text, full of links to maps, extra notes, and other goodies. Then, you also get the study Bible, which comes with over 9,000 Life Application notes, 324 charts, 161 Personality Profiles, 240 full-color maps, a dictionary and concordance, and more.

The best part is that there are tons of articles included in the resource that teach you how to use it, the benefit of applying the Bible to your life, and how to share with others.

The Life Application Study Bible comes in several translations, and even a chronological version. Visit our website to learn more and add this fantastic study Bible to your Olive Tree account.

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John MacArthur’s Introduction to the Gospels

Posted by on 07/06/2018 in:

MacArthur Introduction to the Gospels

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” —John 20:30–31

THE MACARTHUR STUDY BIBLE

If you’ve been on our website recently, you might have noticed that we have 4 different versions of John MacArthur’s Study Bible.

MacArthur Study Bible with NIV

MacArthur Study Bible with NASB

MacArthur Study Bible with ESV

MacArthur Study Bible with NKJV

And. if you know our app well enough, you may be confused as to why we have this same resource available with different translations. In the app, we let you use any Bible translation you want with a study Bible. Why would you need this one with NIV instead of ESV?

Well, in each of these resources, MacArthur makes direct reference to specific translations. You can still mix and match study Bibles and translations all you want—but if you prefer the NASB, we definitely recommend getting that version of this study Bible!

Now, check out this snippet from MacArthur’s Study Bible.

INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPELS

The Word “Gospel”

The English word “gospel” derives from the Anglo–Saxon word godspell, which can mean either “a story about God,” or “a good story.” The latter meaning is in harmony with the Greek word translated “gospel,” euangellion, which means “good news.” In secular Greek, euangellion referred to a good report about an important event. The four gospels are the good news about the most significant events in all of history—the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Gospels Are Not Biographies

The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense of the word, since they do not intend to present a complete life of Jesus (cf. Jn 20:30; 21:25). Apart from the birth narratives, they give little information about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life. While Jesus’ public ministry lasted over three years, the gospels focus much of their attention on the last week of His life (cf. Jn 12–20). Though they are completely accurate historically, and present important biographical details of Jesus’ life, the primary purposes of the gospels are theological and apologetic (Jn 20:31). They provide authoritative answers to questions about Jesus’ life and ministry, and they strengthen believers’ assurance regarding the reality of their faith (Lk 1:4).

Sharing a Common Point of View

Although many spurious gospels were written, the church from earliest times has accepted only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as inspired Scripture. While each Gospel has its unique perspective, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when compared to John, share a common point of view. Because of that, they are known as the synoptic (from a Greek word meaning “to see together,” or “to share a common point of view”) Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for example, focus on Christ’s Galilean ministry, while John focuses on His ministry in Judea. The synoptic Gospels contain numerous parables, while John records none. John and the synoptic Gospels record only two common events (Jesus’ walking on the water, and the feeding of the 5,000) prior to Passion Week. These differences between John and the synoptic Gospels, however, are not contradictory, but complementary.

Each Gospel writer wrote from a unique perspective, for a different audience. As a result, each Gospel contains distinctive elements. Taken together, the four Gospels weave a complete portrait of the God–Man, Jesus of Nazareth. In Him were blended perfect humanity and deity, making Him the only sacrifice for the sins of the world, and the worthy Lord of those who believe.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MACARTHUR’S STUDY BIBLE

There is so much more to MacArthur’s study Bible than what you read here. To get a full picture of all the insight you can gain with the resource, head on over to our website by selecting a link below.

MacArthur Study Bible with NIV

MacArthur Study Bible with NASB

MacArthur Study Bible with ESV

MacArthur Study Bible with NKJV

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The Bible and Intellectual Pursuit

Posted by on 06/27/2018 in:

The Bible and Intellectual Pursuit

THE BIBLE AND INTELLECTUAL PURSUIT

Some presume Christianity is anti-intellectual. But does the Bible actually promote anti-intellectualism?

On the contrary, the Bible promotes the life of the mind. Indeed, the Christian worldview values learning, and it grounds, fosters, and clarifies such intellectual pursuit.

Note, for example, how the nature of God does so. God’s infinity clarifies that he alone possesses full knowledge—past, present, and future. His graciousness initiates all learning as all knowledge of him and life flows from his generous self-revelation. God’s truthfulness shows that his self-disclosure communicates truth and does so coherently. His personal nature means that knowledge is also relational, pointing us to a covenant relationship with him.

God’s self-revelation reflects God and is likewise instructive about intellectual pursuit.

  1. God’s self-revelation is gracious: God freely initiates it and blesses through it.
  2. It is truthful, faithfully representing who God is, what God does, and how God relates to humans.
  3. His self-revelation is a unity: though coming in a variety of forms (see below), God’s communication about himself, humanity, and life coheres.
  4. It is personal, as it communicates who God is and his ways.
  5. It is propositional, disclosing truth about God, humanity, life, history, and salvation.
  6. Since humans are the recipients of God’s self-revelation, it is analogical, as God uses human contexts, cultures, and languages to communicate.
  7. God’s self-revelation is partial, since the infinite God can only reveal limited information to finite humans.
  8. It is historical, as God communicates with humans in space and time.
  9. It is progressive within Scripture, since God relates to multiple generations of humans and gradually expands his self-disclosure over time.

As such, God’s self-revelation clarifies the educational pursuit: it is only possible through divine initiative, rests on the content and unity of revealed truth, has objective and subjective components, requires insight into human culture, cannot be exhaustive, is linked to all of life, and is a perennial process.

Further, God’s gracious self-disclosure has been given in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts, yet with striking unity.

  • God has revealed himself to all people at all times in all places through creation, which witnesses to him as its Creator and Lord (Ps 19:1-6; Rm 1:18-32). He has also done so through creating humans in his image who have a conscience, the moral law written on the heart (Rm 2:12-16).
  • God has also revealed himself to particular people at particular times and places, gradually and more clearly communicating himself and his covenant relations. He has displayed himself through historical actions (e.g., the exodus), through divine speech (e.g., the Ten Commandments), and through his covenant people, whose holiness, love, and justice are to reflect God’s own character (Ex 19:5-6; Lv 19:1-18).
  • God has revealed himself most fully in Jesus and his incarnation, sinless life, teaching, proclamation of the kingdom, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, reign, and return (Jn 1:1-18; Heb 1:1-4).
  • God has also revealed himself through the inspired prophetic-apostolic Holy Scriptures, which accurately record and interpret God’s self-revelation. Even more, the Scriptures are called God’s Word and are themselves a significant form of God’s self-revelation (Pss 19:7-14; 119; Mt 5:17-20; Jn 10:35; 2Tm 3:15–4:5; 1Pt 1:22-25; 2Pt 1:16-21; 3:15-16).

Because of this, proper human intellectual pursuit begins with the fear of the Lord (Pr 1:1-7) and requires the standpoint of creatures seeking to know the Creator and his world through dependence on his self-revelation.

CREATION AND THE INTELLECTUAL PURSUIT

Creation likewise grounds, fosters, and clarifies intellectual pursuit. The infinite, self-existent, sovereign, personal, holy, and good Lord powerfully speaks and creates a good cosmos, evidenced by the steady refrain, “God saw that [it] was good” (Gn 1:4,10,12,18,21,25). This goodness was accentuated on the sixth day: “It was very good indeed” (1:31).

God’s generous provisions of light, land, vegetation, and animals are blessings given for humanity’s benefit, as are the abilities to know God, work, marry, and procreate. In the first chapters of Genesis God blesses man with the Sabbath, places him in the delightful garden of Eden, gives him a helper, and establishes only one prohibition—given not to stifle him but to promote his welfare. Thus, the good God created a good world for the good of humanity. Truth, goodness, beauty, and peace abound. As a result, it is fitting that humans seek to understand all of creation, all of life, in light of God’s revelation.

CSB WORLDVIEW STUDY BIBLE

This blog is adapted from the CSB Worldview Study Bible. It features extensive worldview study notes and articles by notable Christian scholars. And it’s aim is to help Christians better understand the grand narrative and flow of Scripture within the biblical framework.

Guided by general editors David S. Dockery and Trevin K. Wax, this Bible is an invaluable resource and study tool. It will help you to discuss, defend, and clearly share with others the practical compatibility of Christianity in everyday life.

Visit our website to learn more about this new resource!

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What is a Christian Worldview?

Posted by on 06/25/2018 in:

 What is a Christian Worldview?

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Is there anything you can think of which is indispensable to your personal identity? Perhaps your hometown, family, or friends come to mind. While these are important aspects of what it means to be you, they do not travel physically with you everywhere you go. They are not present during those private moments while you are sitting in your room. But one thing sticks closer to you than your own reputation: it is your worldview.

The term worldview has been around for a long time.

First employed by philosopher Immanuel Kant, the concept of worldview (from the German word Weltanschauung) took on new significance for Christians with the publication of James Orr’s book, The Christian View of God and the World. But it has only been recently that Christians have taken interest in worldview studies as an essential task in the mandate to become serious Christian thinkers.

There are two main ways in which people employ the term worldview. One is philosophical; the other, sociological.

THE PHILOSOPHICAL DEFINITION

Although numerous good definitions for worldview might be offered for the philosophical sense of the term, I find the late philosopher Ronald Nash’s concise wording to be superior: “A worldview is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously. . . interpret and judge reality.” Notice the total scope indicated by the language. Our worldview acts upon both our conscious and unconscious impressions about everything around us.

If you have ever met someone who had a blind spot (anything from continuous body odor to an annoying personal habit), you know that we humans are not always aware of our own weaknesses. Our blind spots extend to our beliefs about reality, and since we are incapable of going it alone on our own wisdom, or even the collective wisdom of a community (with corporate blind spots), we must rely on an objective truth teller. This truth teller is God, the Creator of reality. He alone can steady our rudder in the sea of competing worldviews.

In broad terms, a worldview that is Christian examines cultural data and locates them within a pattern of belief that is consistent with the sacred text of Scripture, but also with the broader Christian intellectual tradition.

In other words, whenever we encounter an idea, we ask whether the issue relates variously to how God created the world, how humans through sin have corrupted the world, or how the world through the work of Jesus Christ is in the process of being redeemed and restored.

Developing a Christian worldview is important for the Christ-follower because it tempers the way we interact with and assess the fallen world in which we live. Some Christians fall into the trap of being shocked about beliefs that secular persons express on a given issue. We must remember that worldviews serve the function of eyeglasses, helping a person to focus on the world around him in a meaningful way. Think of a trip to your local optometrist’s office: you are asked to stare at a chart without the aid of corrective lenses. With each new lens, you are asked to choose either A or B. By the time you are finished, you see clearly. Without help, you may struggle to see at all.

THE SOCIOLOGICAL DEFINITION

The sociological definition of worldview recognizes that all conceptual systems are embedded in the culture. Think about the old Palmolive commercial on television: in it, a woman sits in a salon while getting her nails done. Her stylist, Madge, sits across from her, praising how wonderful Palmolive dishwashing liquid is and how gentle it is on the hands. Inevitably, the woman says to Madge, “I can’t wait to try Palmolive!” Madge looks down at the woman’s hands, which are immersed in a tub of liquid: “You’re already soaking in it.”

For all of the discussions Christians hold about “engaging culture,” the reality is that long before we started thinking strategy, culture had already engaged us. Our society has a worldview all its own, which operates on our open imaginations, desires, and wills constantly. Worldviews also act like filters: they are totalizing and jealous. They are variously subtle, overt, systemic, systematic, faithful, or insidious.

A synonym for worldview is ideology.

As Karl Marx wrote in Das Kapital, at the heart of every ideology is the following idea: “They do not know it, but they are doing it [anyway].” Ideology is unaware of its own presuppositions. Those in its sway naively believe that their way of thinking is the product of reason or science—when in fact deeply hidden background beliefs are at work.

For this reason, it is both right and wrong to speak of a “Christian worldview.”

If by that expression one means to say that biblical theology provides a comprehensive way of thinking and living, then yes, by all means we want to affirm the term. On the other hand, it is crucial not to confuse Christianity with being just another worldview standing alongside other culturally embedded worldviews.

As Yale scholar Lamin Sanneh has argued, whenever the question “Whose religion is Christianity?” is asked, the answer comes back: no one culture holds sway over Christianity; it transcends every time, culture, race, and nationality. In this sense, it is unique among other world religions. The gospel stands outside a culture, critiquing it with the resources of the biblical text, and always addressing its sinful desires and deepest aspirations. As theologian Harry Lee Poe observes, “Every culture has a question that only the Bible can answer. Listen for the question.”

CHRISTIANS AND HOLISTIC THINKING

If you are not sensitive about the centrality of worldviews to the way people live, you will be an uninformed—and potentially dangerous—Christian evangelist. Unfortunately, too many well-meaning Christians have tried to share their faith with a non-Christian only to offend unnecessarily the person they are trying to reach. In other cases, a simple evangelistic inquiry turns ugly when the non-Christian turns out to be an articulate and intelligent defender of their own beliefs. Frankly, if you as a Christ-follower fail to understand the importance of worldviews, you might well do more harm than good.

This remark is not meant to frighten anyone away from being passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world.

Nor am I trying to say that sharing one’s faith is a task reserved only for Christian intellectuals. The gospel message is simple and clear, and it can be accepted with childlike faith. Still, every believer has a responsibility to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, a task that our Lord himself referred to as an issue of not only the heart but of the mind (Mt 22:37). Biblical worldview thinking, like discipleship, is a lifelong art that must be consistently practiced and studied, to be done well.

Worldview thinking opposes compartmentalization.

There are not spiritual truths that can be divorced from daily life. Everything must be integrated into a whole. As Howard Ahmanson has so ably put it, “We worship a God who creates universes for a living. He did not set the sun, moon, and stars in their courses and then retire to go into full time Christian ministry.”

Christ is Lord over everything. It is all one whole.

Our job is to find out how to fit all of the pieces together in a broken world. In short, everything matters if anything matters at all. Minds awake, through faith and discipleship, can make real progress in understanding both how we should think and live in this confusing and wonderful world.

Written by Gregory A. Thornbury

CSB WORLDVIEW STUDY BIBLE

This blog is adapted from the CSB Worldview Study Bible. It features extensive worldview study notes and articles by notable Christian scholars to help Christians better understand the grand narrative and flow of Scripture within the biblical framework from which we are called to view reality and make sense of life and the world.

Guided by general editors David S. Dockery and Trevin K. Wax, this Bible is an invaluable resource and study tool. It will help you to discuss, defend, and clearly share with others the truth, hope, and practical compatibility of Christianity in everyday life.

Visit our website to learn more about this new resource!

Continue Reading

Jesus’ Farewell

Posted by on 06/14/2018 in:

Jesus' Farewell

Looking for something a little more in-depth than your average study Bible? The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary is a single-volume resource that walks you through the entire Bible. We pulled this excerpt from the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary to give you a small taste of the kind of information it offers. Mostly, being an ILLUSTRATED Bible Commentary, this resource is filled with charts, images, and graphics. So, keep reading, and discover more about Jesus’ Farewell in John 13-17.

THE FAREWELL DISCOURSE

Jesus’ Farewell: John 13:31–17:26

In the upper room, Jesus now turns to his faithful followers and instructs them at some length. The discourse runs from 13:31 to 16:33 without narrative interruption and then concludes with Jesus’s prayer (17:1–26), which precedes the arrest (18:1–11). The literary form of this section is called the “farewell speech” and was well known in Judaism at this time. For example, one can turn to the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, an inter-testamental, extra-canonical work that records the final words of Israel’s patriarchs. The Assumption of Moses (first century AD) does the same for Israel’s prophet-leader in Transjordan.

Each Jewish farewell speech shows similar elements that are found in Jesus’s farewell:

  1. There is a plea for obedience to the law. Thus in 13:34 and 15:12 Jesus speaks of his new commandment of love.
  2. Often writings are left behind (cf. Assumption of Moses 10:11; 4 Ezra), and in the Fourth Gospel itself we have the chronicle of Jesus’s life now deposited for his followers.
  3. Spirit-filled representatives carry on the work, just as Joshua obtained the Spirit that rested on Moses (Assumption of Moses 10–12). Here Jesus promises the Spirit of truth (14:17), who anoints the disciples and particularly the beloved disciple for his work.
  4. Finally, the anxiety of those left behind is relieved. So Jesus speaks of comfort, terming the Spirit “the Comforter” or “Paraclete” (Greek paraklētos; NIV “Advocate”; 14:16, 26; 15:26).

It is evident then that Jesus recognizes the importance of this evening and is making his formal farewell.

He addresses his disciples’ worries in light of his imminent death and departure. But above all he holds out a promise and hope centered on the coming of the Holy Spirit—one who will guide, teach, encourage, empower, and mediate to the believer the comforting presence of Christ.

BAKER ILLUSTRATED BIBLE COMMENTARY

Want to learn more about the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary? Perfect! Just head on over to our website and we will give you all the details.

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Discipling Your Staff

Posted by on 06/13/2018 in:

Discipling Your Staff

When you think of discipleship, do you think of discipling your staff? The editors of the CSB Disciple’s Study Bible are PASSIONATE about teaching about discipleship. In this excerpt, they outline why you should disciple staff and how to do so effectively. And with the notes from this study Bible, you’re sure to learn and grow in your ability to make disciples.

DISCIPLING YOUR STAFF

Ministry leaders, especially pastors, should prioritize discipling their staff. Regardless of whether the role is full time, bi-vocational, or as a volunteer, the leader can follow Jesus’s example in disciple making. Unfortunately, the people under the direct influence of the leader can often be overlooked in the discipleship process. But leaders must be intentional with those who serve under them, just as Jesus was.

I. WHY DISCIPLE STAFF?

Why did Jesus walk with twelve men more closely than the masses? And why did he choose to walk even closer with three? It is clear that Jesus wanted to have a long-lasting impact on a few men who would go on to replicate the process. Every Christ-follower since is a result of what Jesus began with his disciples.

Multiplication is certainly a key result of making disciples, but so is spiritual growth. While church staff should be expected to grow personally and consistently, leaders can undergird that spiritual growth by providing community and accountability. Leaders must inspect what they expect. By discipling staff, ministry leaders ensure those they lead are accountable and growing in a community of peers.

II. HOW TO DISCIPLE STAFF

While discipling staff takes somewhat of a different approach than discipling a new believer or a group of acquaintances, the principles of basic disciple making still apply: (1) reading Scripture, (2) sharing what God is teaching, (3) memorizing God’s Word, and (4) praying with and for one another. These key elements still drive each meeting.

Here is a practical plan for discipling a staff of any size and church context.

A. Meet weekly. If possible, try not to add another meeting to the schedule. You probably already spend time with staff in some fashion, so maximize the time together by focusing on discipling. Use the first half of a staff meeting or plan to meet over lunch or breakfast weekly. Plan your meeting so that it is refreshing and helpful rather than a drain on already busy schedules.

B. Plan what you will read, share, and memorize each week. Choose what will be read, discussed, and memorized each week. Pick something that coincides with the sermon or Bible study to maximize the study time each week. Likewise, choose a passage or passages to memorize together and have one or two recite the selection each time you meet.

C. Be accountable. Ensure that your staff understands the importance of this time together. Make it a priority on your calendar and encourage the staff to hold it in high regard.

D. Challenge the staff to replicate what happens in the group. Encourage each staff member to disciple their own staff or group of volunteers. They can follow the same plan or make one that best fits their group.

E. Take breaks. Summer can be a difficult time for schedules to align. Don’t be afraid to take a few weeks or even a month or two off from meeting. Encourage your staff to continue to read and memorize Scripture even when you aren’t meeting.

III. THE FRUIT OF DISCIPLING STAFF

A discipled staff grows closer to one another and to the ministry leader. With accountability and community, team members find a greater sense of sharing one another’s burdens and celebrating one another’s victories. Staff members have a practical means by which they can grow spiritually. As team members replicate this process with their own staffs or volunteers, whole ministries can grow together.

Discipling a staff will bring them all together—from department to department as well as between each staff and its leader. Differences among believers can be divisive, but a discipleship relationship can forge an authentic unity within a staff as each member is increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. As the ministry leader engages with the staff walking through God’s Word, sharing how God is working, and memorizing Scripture, you will find yourselves growing in incredible strength and unity.

CSB DISCIPLE’S STUDY BIBLE

The CSB Disciple’s Study Bible will help you engage with and apply God’s Word to your daily life as a disciple of Jesus. Designed to equip you to follow Jesus and disciple others, it features discipleship-themed study notes, as well as tools and resources like the F260 Reading Plan, introductions with outlines and timelines, full-color maps, and discipleship articles from the team at Replicate Ministries.

Learn more about the CSB Disciple’s Study Bible and add it to your library by visiting our website

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The Significance of the Priestly Blessing: Numbers 6

Posted by on 06/12/2018 in: ,

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.’
‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”
Numbers 6:22-27 (NIV)

Blessing Rooted In Israelite Culture

The act of blessing is deeply rooted in Israelite culture. It bears a wide range of meaning. On the one hand, Jacob’s stealing of Esau’s blessing and the latter’s inability to acquire another from his father, Isaac (Gen 27:30-38), provides a glimpse into the near magical power of blessing. In that story, to bless is to bestow power for fertility and well-being, which, once spoken, takes on a life of its own. On the other hand, the expression of divine blessing appears to be no more than a stereotypical exchange for “Hello.” The book of Ruth provides an example of how the invocation of divine blessing was part of the everyday language of greeting, for example, when the harvesters welcome Boaz with the words, “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:4).

The cultic use of divine blessing, as in vv. 24-26, functions someplace between the two examples noted above.

The cultic use of the priestly blessing was widespread by the late monarchical period. Similar cultic language is richly attested in other liturgical literature. Psalm 129:8, for example, concludes with a priestly blessing on the worshipers, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you. We bless you in the name of the Lord” (see also Pss 128:5; 133:3; 134:3).

The Hebrew inscription “the Lord bless you and keep you and be with you” was found on a jar at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the upper Sinai, dating from the eighth-century. This inscription indicates the use of a blessing very similar to Num 5:24-26 already in the middle of the monarchical period. The discovery of the priestly blessing in a burial cave in the area of Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom (contemporary Keteph Hinnom) is even more striking. The blessing is written on two silver amulets that date from the late seventh century.

An amulet is an object believed to give magical powers of protection against evil to the one who wears it. The discovery of such an amulet in a grave raises further questions of whether the priestly blessing was meant to function in association with the dead. Baruch Levine suggests that the priestly blessing may have protected the dead on their way to Sheol.

The Blessing’s Structure

The priestly blessing has a simple structure, consisting of three lines, each of which contains two verbs: bless-keep (protect), shine-grace, lift-peace. The name “Yahweh” appears once in each line, in association with the first of the paired verbs.

Yahweh bless you and keep you;
Yahweh make his face to shine upon
you and be gracious to you;
Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you—
and give you peace

Two readings are possible from this structure.

The six verbs could be interpreted to describe distinct actions of God. They can also be interpreted in pairs. The first verb in each line summarizes an activity of God upon the worshiper, and the second describes the results of God’s actions. The use of the name “Yahweh” as the subject for only the first verb in each sentence favors the interpretation in which the verbs are paired. The result is a threefold blessing.

The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and security (guarding).

The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person (to lighten or shine upon the worshiper) and thus temper judgment with mercy (to be gracious).

The third asserts that God will pay attention (lift his face), thus providing fullness of life (peace). David Noel Freedman notes a variety of subtle stylistic devices in the Hebrew that aid in carrying out the meaning of the priestly blessing. These include a progression in the numbers of words (3, 5, 7) and consonants (15, 20, 25) in each line. The progression is framed by an opening (“The Lord bless you”) and a closing (“and give you peace”) cola of the same length (7 syllables in Hebrew).

Blessing Within the Context

Numbers 6:22-23, 27 frames the priestly blessing within the context of Numbers 5–6. These verses take the form of divine instruction for the Aaronide priesthood. Numbers 6:22-23 indicate that the blessing is meant to function as a concluding benediction (vv. 22-23) to the instruction for camp purity in chaps. 5–6. Numbers 6:27 clarifies that it is God (rather than the priests) who blesses Israel.

The literary setting has puzzled scholars, prompting some even to suggest that the text has been displaced from Lev 9:22, where Aaron is also described as blessing the people from the door of the tent of meeting. But the function of the blessing as a concluding benediction on the camp and the congregation does correspond to other cultic uses of the priestly blessing in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 129:1), suggesting that its present context is less arbitrary than many have suspected.

The overall design of Numbers 5–6 provides additional guidelines for interpreting the priestly blessing in its present context.

The placement of the priestly benediction at the door of the tent of meeting follows naturally upon the inward movement of the laws of defilement. These laws began with contamination requiring expulsion from the camp (5:1-4), followed by three types of relationships within the camp with the power to defile. These relationships moved in an ever-closer orbit to the tabernacle at the center of the camp—from defrauding in general (5:5-10), to adultery (5:11-31), and through to the Nazirite vow (6:1-21). The location for expiatory rituals has tended to follow the same movement. The laws of defrauding and adultery require that the offender be presented “to the priest” (5:9, 15), while the defiled Nazirite must go “to the door of the tent of meeting” (6:10, 13). The door of the tent of meeting is also the location for the priestly blessing on the congregation (see Lev 9:22).

The priestly blessing has at least two functions in its present literary context.

It provides yet another safeguard against defilement by blanketing the camp with the power of divine blessing. It also concludes Numbers 5–6 with a description of the ideal camp. The ideal is where God pays particular attention to persons, where blessing and security drive out the power of death, and where the achievement of wholeness and peace is possible.

The Central Message of Blessing

The priestly blessing (Num 6:22-24) is the most familiar passage in Numbers 5-6. The central message of the blessing is stated in the closing Hebrew word, שׁלום (šālôm), translated “peace”. In English, “peace” connotes the absence of war. It can also describe a state of tranquility. These meanings are also in the Hebrew. But the peace of God in the priestly blessing embraces even more aspects of life, including good health, security, inner harmony, wellness, material prosperity, and a long life. The broad and rich meaning of “peace” in the priestly blessing reinforces the role of holiness in the life of Israel to bring about both social and physical health.

It is noted in the Commentary that the priestly blessing provides an ideal vision of the camp and that it functions as a conclusion to the laws of defilement in Numbers 5–6. The ideal of the priestly blessing continues in contemporary Jewish and Christian worship. It is included in most lectionary cycles as a topic for preaching. The blessing of God also continues to be the last word in many of our Sunday liturgies as a closing benediction.

The central task in preaching this text is to explore what blessing means.

Is the bestowal of a blessing sacramental, or is it no more than a socially polite activity? Also, what is it that we receive at the close of a worship service? Is real divine power transmitted in blessing? Or, is the preacher simply telling us that the worship service is nearly over? The latter point creates a problem for interpreting the priestly benediction. Notice how the introduction to the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-23) stresses that only priests can bless. It is not a casual activity. Additionally, the conclusion (Num 6:27) indicates how close the text is to the world of magic. The author must clarify that the priest does not possess the power to bless independently of God. The need for such clarification underscores that divine blessing has independent power that can be let loose in the congregation.

New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary

This excerpt is adapted from the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (10 Vols.). This series offers critically sound biblical interpretations. Also, it is written by scholars, pastors and laity representing diverse traditions and academic experience. Therefore, this collection of commentary meets the needs of preachers, teachers, and all students of the Bible.

We have the 10 volume set available for purchase on our website! So, learn more about the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. See how it works in the app, and add it to your library today, here.

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Asking for Wisdom

Posted by on 06/04/2018 in:

Asking For Wisdom

During times of trial, it is crucial that we ask for wisdom. The Book of James touches on how we should be praying, asking for wisdom, and that He will be faithful in giving it to us. Read through this excerpt from the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary for in-depth learning of this lesson.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. — James 1:5-8

THE PROBLEM OF TRIALS

James uses a “chain-argument” utilizing catchwords (“need,” 1:4b, 5a; “faith,” 1:3, 6) to bring together the problem of trials and their solution (wisdom and prayer). When faith is tested by times of affliction and suffering, the Christian must turn to God in prayer and find the wisdom to turn the trial situation into a time of growing faith and ongoing endurance. As God’s people realize that they lack wisdom to handle their trials, they must find that essential resource by turning to God and accepting that wisdom as a gift from him.

YOUR TRIAL SURVIVAL GUIDE

James begins by expressing the one need everyone has in difficult times: wisdom to endure trials. The word “if” (ei [TG1487, ZG1623]) in the phrase “If you need wisdom” is a first-class condition assuming the reality of the situation—virtually, “Since you need wisdom.” In the Old Testament wisdom is an attribute of God (Dan 2:20-23) given to chosen leaders like Solomon (1 Kgs 10:23-24); it was also available to those who fear God (Prov 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). In the Wisdom Literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach) wisdom means to live in God’s world by his rules, with two foci, its practical orientation (embracing every area of life and conduct) and its dependence on God (reverence and submission to his dictates).

Often wisdom was personified as a life-giving force in this world (see Osborne 2006:242-254; Patzia 2000:1200-1203). Jesus was a teacher of eschatological wisdom (Matt 11:2-19, 25-30; 23:34-39; et al.), and Paul speaks of “God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge” (Rom 11:33), as well as “wisdom in its rich variety” (Eph 3:10).

THE JEWISH UNDERSTANDING OF WISDOM

James, building on the Jewish understanding of wisdom, saw it primarily as a gift from God (1:6-8) available only to those who ask him for it (1:5; see Gowan 1993, who points to 4 Maccabees as an example of this theme).

In 3:13-18 it is called a “wisdom from above” that anchors the Christian virtues that control the tongue. Most recognize that in James wisdom functions in ways similar to the Holy Spirit. Yet at the same time the two “cannot be entirely equated, because believers could not lack the Holy Spirit,” while they could lack wisdom (Blomberg and Kamell 2008:51). It is best to see the Spirit as mediating this gift from God.

Since the reality is that everyone lacks this wisdom, there is only one answer. One must turn to God and “ask” (a present imperative indicating ongoing prayer) for it. Then begins an incredible meditation on the kind of God we have—a God who responds to our prayers in love.

The Greco-Romans had capricious gods who were disinterested in humanity’s plight and whose involvement in people’s lives often had to be bought (or bought off). The Old Testament paints quite a different picture; there we see a covenant God who loved his people and was constantly involved in their needs, who even in his judgment of their foolish wanderings from him acted redemptively to bring them back to himself.

THE GOD WHO GIVES…

Here in James he is described as “the giving God” (tou didontos [TG1325, ZG1443] theou), with the present tense participle referring to a loving God “who never stops giving.” In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says,

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.”

Both aspects of this challenge are found here as well. Our responsibility is to bring our needs to God, and his promise is that he will respond. This is as it says in 1 Peter 5:7,

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

God’s free and continuous giving has two characteristics. First, it is “generous” (haplōs [TG574, ZG607]), a word that James uses dynamically (see note on 1:5) to connote not just the gracious extent of his liberality but also his single-minded focus and the unhesitating nature of his response to his children’s needs. When we lack the basic wisdom to handle and overcome our trials, we can place ourselves in the hands of a Father whose constant vigilance over us and empowering presence in our lives mean we can find the strength and understanding to withstand all difficulties.

Second, God “will not rebuke you for asking,” meaning that God does not give grudgingly or with a great deal of reproach for his children’s inadequacies and lack of wisdom. There is no need to hesitate in prayer, as if one’s finite, sinful condition will bring about only anger and recrimination from God. God does not belittle his people for their failures but forgives them when they come to him in repentance; he responds immediately to their prayers. James says simply that instead of mockery and condemnation, “he will give it to you” (this phrase occurs last in the sentence for emphasis).

ASKING FOR WISDOM

It is important to note what this doesn’t say: It does not promise that believers can get anything they want from God. That will be addressed in 4:3; when we ask for “only what will give [us] pleasure,” we will not get it. John 14:13 promises, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it,” but “in my name” means “in union with me and my purposes” (Osborne 2007:214). God will not give us what we want but rather what is best for us. Here the prayer is for wisdom, and that will always be given. Martin (1988:19) has a fine summary:

“James has painted in some bold strokes the scope of such praying: It is universal (God gives to all who petition him), it is beneficent, it is without regard to merit, and it is a response with no equivocations.”

FAITH OVER DOUBT

The rest of this passage (1:6-8) centers on the importance of faith over doubting when coming to God in prayer. Petitions to God must be done “in faith,” that is, with a total trust and dependence on God, taking him at his word. Many commentators (Adamson, Dibelius, Martin) see this as a complete confidence and certitude that God will answer. This is correct, but I also agree with those scholars (Blomberg and Kamell, Ropes) who say that the thrust is wider, referring to the basic reliance on God in every area of life, a God-centeredness that defines the Christian walk.

Mainly, this confidence does not mean we are certain that we will receive whatever we ask for but rather that God will act in the way that is best in every situation. This does not teach a “name it and claim it” theology; such is utterly wrong because it teaches that we control God, while in reality only God is sovereign over every situation!

WHAT IS WAVERING?

“Do not waver” is literally “not doubting” (mēden diakrinomenos [TG1252A, ZG1359]). The verb does not really mean to “doubt” that God is going to act but rather to have a divided mind that keeps one from trusting God in the first place. Moo (2000:60) says its basic meaning is “differentiate,” often used in the sense of “create distinctions” (2:4), “judge” (1 Cor 14:29; NLT, “evaluate”), or “dispute” (Acts 11:2; NLT, “criticize”).

In the middle voice, as here, this “doubt” means to “dispute with oneself.” So the idea is that the person is internally divided, “wavering” between trusting God and trusting self. Nystrom (1997:61-62) notes that the duplicity or dishonest doubt James addresses here is different from honest doubt, which has “healthy and even helpful effects.”

Noting the honest emotions, even anger, of the psalmists directed at God (e.g., Pss 13:1; 39:1-3), he points out how “in the press of life, we, like the psalmist, often wonder where God is, whether he really cares, and why he waits.” Such doubts force us to recall God’s faithful character and all he has done. Moreover, God responds to such doubts and meets us in the midst of our human weakness.

WHO IS WAVERING?

In the next verses (1:6b-8) James describes those who “waver.” Since they have a “divided loyalty” between God and this world, they are “as unsettled as a wave of the sea.” The two participles, “blown and tossed,” are virtual synonyms put together for poetic effect rather than to emphasize a violent force. Thus, they do not connote a typhoon or waves crashing on the shore, but rather the unsettled, ever-changing sea, driven by the wind. One moment such people are up (centered on God), the next moment they are down (centered on this world). You might call them spiritually “seasick”!

The emphasis is on the instability of this kind of Christian life, which “oscillates between faith and skepticism, unwilling to trust in Christ once for all and to stay the course in allegiance to him” (Blomberg and Kamell 2008:53). The need is for perseverance in faith (1:3-4), a constancy of walk in which God and Christ are ever uppermost in facing the vicissitudes of life. We live in a fallen world, and in this world bad things happen to good people. Moreover, as Christians we must face the possibility of persecution, and this is a theme of James as well as of 1 Peter. There is only one way to handle such ups and downs in life, and that is by an unwavering trust in the providential care of God.

CORNERSTONE BIBLICAL COMMENTARY

This excerpt is adapted from the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. This series provides up-to-date, evangelical scholarship on the Old and New Testaments. Each volume is designed to equip pastors and Christian leaders with exegetical and theological knowledge to better understand and apply God’s Word.

We have the 20 volume set available for purchase on our website! Learn more about the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, see how it works in the app, and add it to your library today, here.

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Spiritual Gifts in Worship

Posted by on 05/29/2018 in:

Spiritual Gifts in Worship

There has been, and probably always will be, a great debate over spiritual gifts and their role in the Church. Richard L. Pratt (and editor Max Anders) walk Christians through this 1 Corinthians controversy in the Holman Commentary. We’ve included an excerpt of this part of the commentary, but we did cut quite a bit out because it comes with SO much information.

Every section has a meaningful quote, real-life stories, plenty of summaries, verse-by-verse commentary, introductions, application points, teaching tips, and lots of direction for further discovery. We couldn’t ask for more in a commentary!

So, here are just a few parts of the Holman Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-30.

“Let us all then, considering these things, imitate the love of these members; let us not in any wise do the contrary, trampling on the miseries of our neighbor and envying his good things. For this is the part of madmen and persons beside themselves. Just as he that digs out his own eye hath displayed a very great proof of senselessness; and he that devours his own hand exhibits a clear evidence of downright madness.” — John Chrysostom

IN A NUTSHELL

In this chapter the apostle Paul turned to the issue of spiritual gifts in the church. He touched on a number of matters but especially on the value of all spiritual gifts.

INTRODUCTION: THAT LITTLE PIECE IS WORTH THAT MUCH?

We have seen many changes in technology during the last fifty years. One of the most important changes is the shift from “bigger is better” to “smaller is better.” It used to be that the biggest computer in the school was the best computer. Now the smallest computer in a briefcase is the best computer.

I once had a computer crash in the worst way. It was not something big that broke. It was one of the smallest pieces. I remember the technician explaining it to me. He drew a picture of the defective part, then commented: “You understand that this part is only this big…” He then drew a circle smaller than a dime.

Then I asked the big question. “How much is it going to cost me?” When he told me, I laughed. “That’s more than I paid for the entire computer. That little piece is worth that much?”

“Yup,” he replied. “This piece may be small, but what it does is vital to the computer. The computer just can’t work without it.”

Paul pointed out in this chapter that every gift God gives to his church is valuable. The Corinthians looked at appearances to determine which gifts were more important than others. But Paul declared that the smallest and least spectacular gifts are essential to the work of the church.

COMMENTARY: SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN WORSHIP

MAIN IDEA: Paul explained the role of the gifts of the Spirit in worship, beginning with the value of diverse gifts in the worship of God. He discussed the issue in three main sections: identifying the Spirit, the unity and diversity of the Spirit’s manifestations, and the unity and diversity of members in the body.

Much controversy exists over whether the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit listed in this passage continue today. The controversy generally centers around the issue of special revelation. Some interpreters believe that special revelation continues today, while others deny the giving of new special revelation. Evangelicals take many different positions on this subject, but for the sake of convenience evangelical positions can be categorized under three basic headings.

CONTINUATION

Some traditions affirm that the infallible transmission of special revelation ceased with the closure of Scripture. Even so, God continues to speak to his church through apostles and prophets and through other supernatural means such as tongues, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, etc. These groups apply Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy directly to their situations because they believe these manifestations of the Spirit continue in modern times.

MODIFICATION

Other traditions hold that significant changes have taken place between the days of Paul and our day. First, the offices of apostle and prophet were foundational offices of the church (Eph. 2:20), designed specifically to transmit special revelation to the church in its early stages. In this view, these offices have ceased.

Second, manifestations such as tongues, prophecy, and messages of knowledge and wisdom have gone through modifications with the cessation of the apostles and prophets. In this view, none of these gifts provides direct infallible special revelation. Through fallible pastors, teachers, and the like, God leads the church into proper application of his Word in Scripture through preaching, intuitions, advice, and evaluations of circumstances. Nevertheless, at every point the teachings of these officers must be evaluated carefully by the Scriptures.

These groups apply these passages only indirectly to their churches, adjusting the meanings of the passages to account for the current circumstances wherein infallible special revelation no longer occurs. Paul’s words still give the church guidance for managing current manifestations of the Spirit analogous to those in Corinth.

CESSATION

Some branches of the church assert that all supernatural special revelation has ceased and that God communicates with his church today only through the Scriptures. These people usually hold that the miraculous gifts seen in the New Testament have ceased, believing that miracles existed to demonstrate the authority of God’s infallible spokespersons. When God stopped sending infallible spokespersons, the Spirit stopped bestowing miraculous gifts. For the most part, Paul’s comments on the supernatural gifts are largely irrelevant because these gifts no longer exist. Preachers and teachers of the word today have the responsibility of reasoning carefully through the logical implications of Scripture.

To meet the needs of each position, this commentary will focus primarily on Paul’s original meaning to the Corinthians in this passage. Different readers must apply these matters to their situations according to their orientations toward Continuation, Modification, and Cessation.

A. IDENTIFYING THE SPIRIT (12:1-3)

SUPPORTING IDEA: The Corinthians’ pagan background made them susceptible to being misled by supernatural manifestations Paul told them how to identify those who spoke by the Spirit.

12:1 – Paul began with the expression now about spiritual gifts. The terminology now about (peri de) indicates that Paul responded to questions or issues raised by the Corinthians themselves. He did not reveal their precise concerns, but stated emphatically that he did not want them to be ignorant or unaware of this topic. Once again, Paul created a familial mood by addressing the Corinthians as brothers.

12:2-3 – Paul provided a central criterion for distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s work from the experiences of pagan religion. He did this by setting up a contrast between the times when the Corinthians were pagans. . . and led astray to mute idols, and their Christian experience of speaking by the Spirit of God.

The precise nature of this contrast is debated. Some interpreters argue that Paul contrasted the fact that pagans were led by idols, and Christians by the Holy Spirit. Others have argued that Paul specifically contrasted the extraordinary supernatural experiences of ecstatic speech in pagan religion with the supernatural work (esp. tongues and prophecy) of the Holy Spirit in the church.

Although the former outlook may not be ruled out entirely, several considerations support the latter view:

  1. Mystery religions popular in the Mediterranean world at that time practiced ecstatic speech.
  2. In this passage, Paul did not focus on Jews, but on Gentiles who were likely to have been involved in such idolatrous religions.
  3. Paul said that the Gentile believers were formerly influenced and led astray by someone or something.
  4. He described the idols as mute, which in this interpretation would be a great irony.
  5. The general context of this verse focuses on the nature and restrictions that apply to speaking in tongues, a Christian experience similar to the ecstasy of pagan religions. It would appear, therefore, that Paul reminded the Corinthians about their past extraordinary religious experiences of idol worship.

Paul drew attention to these past experiences to deduce general instructions on distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s gifts from pagan religious experiences. First, the Holy Spirit never leads anyone to say, Jesus be cursed. If someone in the church at Corinth spoke such words (even under supernatural influence), he was not speaking by the Spirit of God. Second, the Holy Spirit empowers those who proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

If a religious experience does not honor Christ as Lord, then it is not from the Spirit. If it does, then the Holy Spirit may be behind the experience.

B. DIVERSE SPIRITUAL GIFTS (12:4-11)

SUPPORTING IDEA: Paul warned against identifying the Spirit with only one manifestation in the church. The gifts of the Spirit are manifold, and each is important in the worship of God and the ministry of the church.

For more verse-by-verse commentary, purchase the Holman Commentary here.

C. UNITY & DIVERSITY OF MEMBERS IN THE BODY (12:12-30)

SUPPORTING IDEA: Paul pointed out the importance of each spiritual gift in the church by means of an extensive analogy. He likened the church, the body of Christ to the physical human body.

For more verse-by-verse commentary, purchase the Holman Commentary here.

PRINCIPLES

EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING: Paul went to great lengths in this passage to establish proper attitudes toward every gift of the Spirit. The Corinthians tended to exalt some gifts over others, but Paul urged them to recognize all gifts as the blessings of the Spirit of God.

  • Every Christian is a necessary, beneficial member of the church.
  • Spiritual gifts are primarily for the purpose of building up the church.
  • Because we are members of one another, the spiritual states of our fellow believers affect us personally.
  • We do not receive spiritual gifts according to merit or ability, but as God sees fit according to his grace.

APPLICATION

  • We must look for ways to use our gifts in the service of the church and encourage others to do so as well.
  • We must not take pride in our spiritual gifts.
  • We must not feel inferior if our spiritual gifts are not as impressive as the gifts of others.
  • We should actively pursue spiritual gifts.

GO FURTHER: QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION

1. Why do some people have certain gifts of the Spirit, while other people have different gifts? Is this a good thing? What is the purpose of gifts of the Spirit?

2. Why did Paul include this chapter in his letter? Do you think it was to correct a particular problem? If so, what was the problem? If not, why does the argument appear here?

3. What is the point of the “body” metaphor? Did Paul emphasize diversity or unity, or did he treat both equally? Can you defend your answer with explicit examples from the text?

4. Are there any people in your church who do not belong there? Is it always bad when people leave a church? Why or why not?

GET THE HOLMAN COMMENTARY SET

Through June 4th we will be selling the Holman Commentary Set (32 Vols) for only $99.99. Normally, this set is worth $299.99! If you want a commentary that goes in-depth and provides you with plenty of new ways to interact with God’s Word—this is for you. Learn more about the Holman Commentary Set, see how it works in the app, and buy it on our website.

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