Greater Gifts?

Q. In 1 Co 12, Paul went to great length in explaining there are different members of the body that God put together, especially giving honor to the weaker parts so there is no division. Each member is given different gifts as the Holy Spirit desires and is just as important. So we ought to be satisfied in playing the roles that we are given. If so, why is it all of a sudden in the last verse (v 31) he asks us to desire for the greater gifts? It almost implies that there are levels of greatness and importance in the gifts. On the one hand, we are to be satisfied with what our gifts are, but on the other hand, we are to desire and seek greater gifts?

A. There is no contradiction. On the one hand, the Church is one body, with many parts. To each one is given some gift by the Spirit for the common good (v 7), not personal glory. Notice the phrases:
• through the Spirit v 8,
• according to the same Spirit v 8,
• by the same Spirit v 9,
• by the one Spirit v 9,
• by one and the same Spirit v 11, and
• by the Spirit v 13,
a 6-fold repetition to emphasize that everything comes from the same Spirit who distributes to each one individually just as He wills (v 11). Accordingly there should be unity amongst members despite the diversity of gifts.

On the other hand, the Corinthians had mistakenly elevated tongues above prophesy, when in fact it should be the other way around:
1 Co 14:5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying
so Paul wrote to correct this error. The measure of the importance of a gift is the extent to which it builds up the church:
1 Co 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Tongues, unless interpreted, do not edify others, and is therefore inferior to prophesy which edifies everyone:
1 Co 14:19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also (i.e. prophesy), rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Is there a priority ranking to all the gifts? Yes and no.
1 Co 12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
• 1 Co 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
• 1 Co 14:39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.

Note that apostles, prophets and teachers are also gifts, or gifted men, that God gave to the church. Yes, there is a ranking as indicated by first, second and third, and some extend that ranking (fourth, fifth, sixth etc.) further to other gifts, but the latter is not part of the text, only an extrapolation by commentators. No because the ranking is not given for all gifts, only some. I would restrict myself to what’s given in the text, no more, no less, and estimate the relative importance by how much a gift edifies the church.

We are to be satisfied with what gifts we have, because they are sovereignly given by the Spirit:
1 Co 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
We are also to earnestly desire the greater gifts (1 Co 12:31), so that the church will be edified. There is no contradiction.

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Concealed versus Revealed

Q. How do you reconcile Deut 29:29 with Prov 25:2?

A. First, let’s examine what each verse says.
Deut 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

The “secret things” are contrasted with “the things revealed”. They are the things God chose to keep to Himself.
Acts 1:7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;

The context of Deut 29 is the renewal of the covenant, about the blessings when Israel obeys and curses when Israel disobeys. So more specifically the “secret things” concern Israel’s future which is contingent upon her obedience.

The “things revealed” parallel “the words of this law” in the last part of v29. They belong to us & to our descendents forever, as God’s laws are abiding, so that we may observe them.

Prov 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

God gets glory when men realize their limitations in failing to understand His universe or the way He rules it:
Rom 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Kings get glory when they discern the truth & administer justice:
1 Kgs 3:9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?
Properly understood, I don’t see any contradiction between these verses. As God, He has a right to disclose some things to us and conceal others from us. Generally speaking, the concealed things He reserved for Himself concern the future, except in the case of prophecies He chose to reveal, as proof of His sovereignty:
Isa 21:43 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods;

Within the subset of what He reveals, including His laws which reflect His nature, it is up to kings or rulers to understand His will, so that they can carry out His will & govern in accordance to His character. There is no conflict & perfect harmony between the 2 verses.

God’s Choice vs. Man’s Choice (1 of 2)

God's or Man's choice 4

Q. Seems to me that allowing men to choose does not eliminate God’s sovereignty. God in His sovereignty allows man to exercise his free will in the matter of accepting Christ, just like He allows man to decide things in his every day life. However, He can also overrule and take that away any time. (Just like parents to kids.) He can choose to have mercy to anyone He wants, and He can choose to allow man to exercise his free will within the confines He defines. Otherwise why would God let us waste time to convert those who are predestined to hell?

A. I never said allowing men to choose eliminated God’s sovereignty. What I said was allowing men to have the final say eliminates God’s sovereignty. One word makes all the difference. Arminians claim that man has the final say in matters of accepting Christ, otherwise how can God hold man accountable? Calvinists claim that God has the final say in who gets saved, otherwise God is subject to man’s choice and not sovereign. The two views are mutually exclusive as both can’t have the final say. I side with the Calvinists based on scriptural evidence.

We can analyze this issue logically and biblically. For the moment, let’s put who has the final say aside. From God’s perspective, He can either elect (choose) to save a person, or pass over (bypass) him. From man’s angle, he can choose either to accept or reject Christ. There are thus 4 possible combinations:

God vs Man Choice

1. God chooses the person, and he chooses to accept Christ. The outcome is that he is saved.
2. God bypasses the person, and he chooses to reject Christ. The outcome is that he is lost.
So far so good. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree on the above outcomes. But 3 and 4 is where who has the final say becomes important.

3. God chooses the person, but he chooses to reject Christ.
a. If God has the final say (Calvinist), he is saved.
b. If man has the final say (Arminian), he is lost.

Sometimes the Calvinist view is caricatured as God dictating and cramming His will down man’s throat. We must avoid such fallacious straw man arguments. In fact God the Holy Spirit works on man’s conscience to draw him to Christ:
Jn 16:8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
He arranges events and circumstances such that man comes to Christ willingly, because his eyes had been opened to see the plight he is in, and his heart, mind and will convicted of his need for the Savior. Calvinists call this irresistible grace or effectual calling, which precludes the possibility of those called rejecting Christ.

The Arminian view maintains that God gives prevenient grace prior to conversion that offsets the damaging effect of sin on a man’s ability to understand the gospel, releases him from bondage to sin, restores his freewill, but which comes short of efficaciously saving the person. This leaves the final decision of whether to accept or receive Christ with man, not God. Biblically, who is correct? I believe the former.

Who has the final say?
Prov 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
• Prov 19:21 Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand.
• Dan 4:34 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

Obviously God.

Is God’s will resistible?
Job 42:2 I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
• Isa 14:24, 27 The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, … For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?”
• Rom 9:19-21 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, …

Obviously no. God as Creator has a right over man as creature, who are not His equal and can resist His will. They can try, but they won’t succeed.

(To be continued)

Jesus Never Change?

Heb 13 8 d

Q. You said God never change. Then how can Jesus become a man forever after the incarnation? Isn’t that change?

A. The immutability of God is an attribute where “God is unchanging in his character, will, and covenant promises.” This is based on a number of Scriptures:

Num 23:19 God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
•1 Sam 15:29 Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”
• Ps 102:26 Even they will perish, but You endure; …
• Mal 3:6 For I, the LORD, do not change; …
• Heb 6:17-18 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
• Jas 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Notice that all the passages refer to God’s character, will, and promise. Immutability does not mean that God is static and therefore never changes. God is dynamic, but always acts according to His nature. He won’t act contrary to His character.

What about Jesus? In the incarnation, God the Son took on human nature and became man. The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) declared that in Christ there are two natures, deity and humanity, each retaining its own properties, and together united in one subsistence and in one single person (hypostatic union). The Word was unchanged as He entered a union with sinless human nature in a physical body:
Col 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
God the Son did not change His divine nature at the incarnation. His deity did not mix or blend with His humanity, which would necessitate change. Instead, His deity resides in His humanity in the Person of Christ.

With respect to His divine nature, Jesus as God is immutable or unchanging:
2 Tim 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
• Heb 1:12 … But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
• Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Nothing of His character, will and promise changed as a result of the incarnation.

With respect to His human nature, Jesus as man is mutable or subject to change:
Lk 2:40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; …
• Jn 4:6 … So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. …
• Lk 22:44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

He could grow, get tired, suffer, and die.

One question remains. How did this union happen? I don’t know, because the Bible didn’t explain. All I can say is that God chose not to reveal to us, perhaps because we do not have the capacity to understand it. It is a mystery, but not a contradiction. It is easier to understand if the two natures blend together to form a hybrid, but that’s not what the Bible taught. Just as the Trinity is a mystery, so is the incarnation. I can go only as far as the Bible reveals it, the rest is hidden from us, which I accept by faith.