Alan Knox

Alan Knox

Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

Colossians - Prayer Part 2

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I also discussed the letter’s salutation which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting.

The next part of the letter consists of the prayer. The prayer easily divides into two parts: Part 1 (Colossians 1:3-8) and Part 2 (Colossians 1:9-14). I’ve already discussed the first part of the prayer, so this post concerns the second part:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)

While the first prayer (Colossians 1:3-8) was a prayer of thanksgiving to God because of the Colossians, the second prayer is a request made to God on behalf of the Colossians. Interestingly, this request is made from Paul and Timothy because of the example of Epaphras’ consistent praying. As with the first part of the prayer, this part is also one long sentence, even though it is conveniently separated in the translation above for easier reading.

The authors begin by asking God to fill the Colossians with the knowledge of his will. “Filled with the knowledge” is probably figurative language for making his will clearly known. His desires will be made known in spiritual wisdom and understanding. However, Paul and Timothy do not want the Colossians to only know God’s will, but instead they want them to act on God’s will.

They say that they want the Colossians to clearly know God’s will so that the believers in Colossae will live accordingly (“so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”). Again, “walk” is used figuratively in the sense of living in a certain way. It can be assumed here that knowing God’s will lead to doing God’s will.

“To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” is further described by four participles: 1) producing fruit, 2) growing/increasing, 3) being strengthened/empowered, and 4) giving thanks. The first two (“producing fruit” and “growing/increasing”) have been mentioned previously, and are closely connected in the sentence. Here, we see that “producing fruit” is associated with good works, and “growing/increasing” is associated with knowing God.

Furthermore, walking in a worthy manner is described as being strengthened by the power that God provides. In this description, the authors pile on the verbs and nouns for power/might/glory to emphasize the extent of God’s power which is able to work through the Colossians.

Finally, Paul and Timothy say that the Colossians will be grateful to God when living in a manner worthy of the Lord. We see that the believers in Colossae will joyfully thank God when they realize what God has done for them through his Son: 1) he made them sufficient to be part of God’s children, 2) he moved them out from under the authority of “darkness” and into the kingdom of the Son, and 3) he has redeemed them by forgiving them of their sins.

Here are a few points concerning this prayer:

First, this is primarily a prayer for the spiritual growth of the Colossians. Paul and Timothy have already heard about their faith and love, and they have thanks God for what they heard. But they desire even more for the believers in Colossae: they desire for even more faith and more love.

Second, knowledge of God’s will, wisdom, and spiritual understanding never remain in the mental realm. Instead, they result in action on the part of the person/group who knows God’s will and has wisdom and spiritual understanding. The purpose of knowing God’s will is so that we will live according to it.

Third, the first aspect of living according to God’s will listed by Paul and Timothy is producing fruit through good works. Similarly, knowing God is closely related to bearing fruit through good works. We would do well to remember this. Again, these concepts will continue to be brought up in this letter.

Fourth, the power to live according to God will is supplied by God alone. We work from the power that God provides. We will see this again when Paul discusses his own service in Colossians 1:29.

Fifth, the proper response to the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf is joyful thanksgiving to God. In this prayer, Paul and Timothy lists three of the benefits that are ours through Jesus. We could list many, many others. But, all of them should lead us to joy and thanksgiving.

What would you add to my study of this second part of the prayer for the Colossians?

Colossians – Prayer Part 1

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I also discussed the letter’s salutation, which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting.

In the next two posts, I’m going to briefly discuss the final part of the salutation: the prayer. The prayer easily divides into two parts: Part 1 (Colossians 1:3-8) and Part 2 (Colossians 1:9-14). This post concerns the first part of the prayer:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:3-8)

While it makes sense to divide the prayer up into several sentences in English, it is actually one long sentence. The prayer (both parts actually) is presented as from both Paul and Timothy (“we”), while a later part of the letter shifts the first person (“I”) and is probably specifically from Paul (see Colossians 1:24 for an example).

While praying for the Colossians, Paul and Timothy thank God because they have heard two things about them: 1) They heard about their faith (trust) in Jesus Christ, and 2) they heard about their love for all of God’s children (“saints,” “holy ones,” “those set apart by God”). This is the second time (of many) that the authors mention the faith of the recipients, and the first time (of many) that they mention their love.

Paul and Timothy state that the Colossian’s faith and love are a result of the hope that they now have after hearing the gospel. However, we should probably understand this is more than just hearing (“you have heard before”), because the gospel is producing fruit and increasing among the Colossians just as it is around the world. Once again, the authors’ mention of producing fruit and increasing/growing is the first of several instances in this letter.

Why did the gospel give them hope and why is it producing fruit and increasing among the Colossians? Paul and Timothy say that this is happening among the believers in Colossae because when they heard the gospel, they also understood the grace of God.

The Colossians heard the gospel and began to understand the grace of God from Epaphras, one of Paul’s co-workers (“fellow servant” or “slave together”). This same Epaphras told Paul and Timothy about the Colossians’ response to the gospel and the grace of God.

Here are a few points to consider when thinking about this part of Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians:

First, Paul and Timothy were prompted to pray for the Colossians because of their faith and love. Although they had never been to Colossae, they had heard about them from Epaphras, and had probably witnessed how much Epaphras prayed for the Colossians as well (see Colossians 4:12). They were not prompted to pray because of problems in Colossae, but because the Colossians were growing in faith and love.

Second, the term “gospel” is used interchangeably (in apposition) with the phrase “word of truth” or “message of truth.” This may help us understand what Paul means when he uses “word/message,” “truth,” or “word/message of truth” later in this letter and in other letters.

Third, Paul and Timothy assume that understanding the gospel and the grace of God will produce fruit. I think we will see what they mean by “fruit” as we continue to read the letter. Further, they also expect that those who understand the gospel and the grace of God will work toward increasing the spread of the gospel.

Finally, Epaphras is a very important figure in this letter, even though he is not one of the authors. Epaphras shows up in Colossians and Philemon (Philemon 1:23). It is also possible that Epaphras is the same person who is called Epaphroditus in Philippians (Philippians 2:25 and Philippians 4:18). The Colossians, at least, must have thought very highly of Epaphras.

Do you have anything to add to my study?

Colossians – Author, Recipients, and Greeting

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). The teaching will primarily be discussion (which I’ve found requires more preparation than lecture style, but that’s another post for another day).

I’ve already written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. In this post, I want to talk about the first part of the letter, which I called the salutation in my outline. This part identifies the author, the recipients, and includes a greeting.

Here is the salutation of Colossians:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:1-2)

This is fairly straightforwards, especially if you’ve read much of the New Testament.

The text indicates that Paul is the author, along with Timothy. We don’t know exactly how the authorship process worked, but somehow the letter is from both of them.

Later in the letter, we’ll see that Paul specifically talks about his ministry on behalf of the gospel in Colossians 1:23, and that he specifically signs the letter by writing the final greeting himself in Colossians 4:18. This probably indicates that Paul is the primary author, but that Timothy is there with him in some capacity, although Timothy is not mentioned again in the letter.

Paul specifically identifies himself as an apostle (representative, emissary, ambassador, messenger) of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he admits that he is an apostle only because God desired for him to be an apostle. Paul includes the idea that he was an apostle by the will of God in the opening of several of his letters (see 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and 2 Timothy 1:1). It is most explicit in Galatians 1:1.

Timothy is called “the brother” (or perhaps “our brother” or “his brother” in context). Paul is not slighting Timothy. In other places, Timothy is recognized as an apostle. As we will see in this letter (and in fact in all his letters), Paul considers the familial relationship to be very important.

Again, according to the text, Paul (and Timothy) are sending this letter to Chrisitans who are living in Collosae. Paul identifies them as “saints” (or “holy ones” or “those set apart”) and as “faithful brothers and sisters.” This idea of continued faithfulness will continue to be very important in this letter.

Collosae was located in Phrygia (part of modern day Turkey) near Laodicea and near a major road that ran from Ephesus to the Euphrates River. As we will learn later in the letter, Paul had never visited Collosae.

Finally, Paul offers his standard greeting: Grace and peace to you. This is a slight variation of the standard greeting of that time, which is typically translated, “Greetings.”

It is interesting and worthwhile to note the references to God the Father and Jesus Christ in these two short verses. Paul is not just any messenger/apostle, but a messenger of/from Jesus Christ. He is an apostle by the will of God. The Collosians are saints and faithful brothers and sisters “in Christ,” and Paul wishes them grace and peace from God our Father.

In fact, of the 28 words in these two verses, nine of them (almost 1/3) are used to refer to God the Father or Jesus Christ (and that doesn’t include the words “apostle,” “by the will,” “saints,” “faithful,” “brothers/sisters,” “grace,” or “peace,” all of which relate to God and/or Jesus in this passage).

Do you have anything to add?

Colossians – Preliminary Outline

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am beginning a study of the Book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book in a few weeks. I began by reading through the book in several different translations so that I could get a good “feel” for how Paul arranged his material.

The next step in the process is to develop a preliminary outline. I try to put together a preliminary outline based on my reading. Now, you may wonder why I don’t consult commentaries for an outline. That might be the expedient step, but I typically don’t consult commentaries until the very end of the study. I want to understand the text as much as I can before I consult commentaries.

(By the way, I should pause here for a moment. While I try to consult only the text, this is very difficult to do. Almost all English Bible translations and even edited Greek texts include some type of outline. Of course, translations are also interpretations. So, I can’t actually separate myself from this scholarship, and I don’t attempt to. But, I do try to recognize and admit those influences.)

To begin with, Colossians is a letter. So, there is a basic outline for letters written during this time period. (Of course, letters do not always fall perfectly within this pattern.)

The salutation of Colossians is found in Colossians 1:1-2, which includes the sender, the recipients, and the initial greeting. Also, the prayer/thanksgiving/blessing for the recipients of the letter is found in Colossians 1:3-14.

The closing of the letter is found in Colossians 4:7-18, which includes both travel plans and greetings.

So, the body of Colossians is found in Colossians 1:15-29. The body of the letter is fairly easy to outline because of the transitions and connections that Paul uses. For example, at the end of his prayer for the Colossians, Paul says, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14) This immediately transitions into a discussion of the Son, Jesus Christ, which begins in Colossians 1:15.

So, the first section of the body of the letter is about Jesus. There appear to be two subsections here: 1) Jesus’ preeminence over creation (beginning in Colossians 1:15) and 2) Jesus’ preeminence over the church (beginning in Colossians 1:18). Now, it could be that Jesus’ preeminence over the church is actually within his preeminence over creation, not a separation subsection. But, since it seems that Paul uses Jesus’ preeminence over the church to transition into the next section of the letter, I want to include that as a separate subsection.

As I mentioned, at the end of the subsection on Jesus’ preeminence over the church, Paul begins another transition by mentioning his own ministry to the church. This leads to a longer discussion about Paul’s service on behalf of Jesus Christ. This is another section within the letter than runs from Colossians 1:24through Colossians 2:5. Importantly, Paul not only describes his own ministry of the Gospel, he explains his understanding of the mystery of the Gospel, which is Christ himself.

Next, Paul again uses the end of the previous section as a transition. Paul says that his ministry includes rejoicing in the firmness of the Colossians’ faith (Colossians 2:5). This leads directly into the final (long) section in which Paul exhorts his readers to “walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

The completion of this exhortation is not found until near the end of the letter when Paul says, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders,” or literally “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.” (Colossians 4:5) This verse forms an inclusio (book ends) with the simiar exhortation in Colossians 2:6-7. Thus, these two passages (Colossians 2:6-7 and Colossians 4:5) frame this section of Paul’s letter.

Within this section, there appear to be two subsections. In the first, Paul uses the imagery of circumcision and baptism (death, burial, and resurrection) to exhort his readers against trusting human wisdom and toward only trusting Christ. This section begins in Colossians 2:8 and ends in Colossians 3:4. The final subsection contains various exhortations toward living in Christ (especially living in Christ together). This subsection runs from Colossians 3:5 through Colossians 4:5.

So, putting this all together, I end up with this preliminary outline:

  1. Salutation
    1. Sender (Colossians 1:1)
    2. Recipients (Colossians 1:2)
    3. Greeting (Colossians 1:2)
    4. Prayer/Thanksgiving/Blessing (Colossians 1:3-14)
  2. Body (Colossians 1:15-29)
    1. The Preeminence of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-23)
      1. The Preeminence of Jesus over Creation (Colossians 1:15-17)
      2. The Preeminence of Jesus over the Church (Colossians 1:18-23)
    2. The Example of Paul’s Service (Colossians 1:24-29)
    3. Practical Exhortations to the Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23)
      1. Negative Exhortations against trusting human wisdom (Colossians 2:6-23)
      2. Positive Exhortations toward living for Christ (Colossians 3:5-25)
  3. Travel Plans, Final Greetings, and Closing (Colossians 4:6-18)

Obviously, there is more work to be done here. That’s why this is a preliminary outline. As I continue to study and work through the details of the passage, I will probably modify the outline.

Colossians – Beginning a Study

Typically, when we meet together as the church, we study through Scripture. For example, back at the end of October, we completed a long study of the Book of Genesis. Before that, we studied the Gospel of Matthew together.

Between long studies of specific books of the Bible, we often take breaks for topical or shorter studies. This is what we’ve been doing since November. March is the last month for one of these shorter studies, and I’ve been asked to plan our study for that month.

For several reasons that aren’t really important here, I’ve chosen the book of Colossians for our study. So, beginning the first Sunday in March, we will read through Colossians each week. Then, we’ll study one section of the book each week.

Typically, when I teach, I use a combination of lecture and discussion styles. The study of Colossians will follow the same patterns with one slight modification. Each week I’m planning to ask one person in particular to teach a part of that week’s passage. (Of course, each week, everyone will be encouraged to read and study the passage and to take part in the teaching session.)

I’m hoping that by asking someone to help me teach each week that I will be helping that person learn to study and prepare to teach. I’ll also be available during the week before to talk with that person about their passage and to help in their study and preparation.

I thought that I would also use this as an opportunity to share my own study and preparation methods on my blog. As far as I can remember, I have never shared this before. Now, before you get too excited – or too bored – this series, if you can call it a series, will be very casual and perhaps a bit random. I do not necessarily have a set study pattern and methodology that I use. I mean, I don’t have fourteen steps or seven objectives or ten whatevers. In fact, I typically allow the text itself guide my study.

What do I mean? Well, I always begin the same way: reading the text… the whole text… over and over again in different translations (and in Greek of course). In a book like Colossians, I read it the whole book in one sitting as many times as I can.

Once I begin to understand the flow of the text, I let the text choose how I proceed. For example, originally I had planned to teach Colossians in four weeks. However, after reading through Colossians several times, I realized that the flow of the text naturally led to five divisions (more actually, but I’m planning to combine a couple of divisions). So, I’ve decided to teach the book in five weeks now. If I had not taken the time to read through the text, I would not have realized the need for an additional week until it was too late.

Now that I understand the general flow of the letter, I will next attempt an outline. Of course, this will be a preliminary outline. I will not try to create a complete outline until I have had more time to study the details. In other words, I am starting with the big picture before I move to the details. Then, I allow the details to fill in or modify the big picture slightly if necessary.

In the last few years I have begun to understand how important the big picture is for exegesis of the biblical text. Sometimes this “big picture” is called “context,” and that’s a good word for it too. Before I begin to understand what exactly an author means by a particular word, phrase, or sentence, I have to try to figure out the purpose and context of the entire letter.

So, I’m going to give my readers (at least the ones who decide to continue reading) a glimpse into my study of Colossians.

In the next post of this series, I plan to share my preliminary outline as well as an explanation of why I divided Paul’s letter like I did.

Just like during my teaching sessions on Sundays, I encourage my readers to comment on this study at any time during the process.

The Disciples, the Apostles, and the Twelve

When I was growing up, I thought that the terms “disciples,” “apostles,” and “the Twelve” all referred to the same group of twelve men who followed Jesus around between his baptism and his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, I often heard the terms combined as in “the twelve disciples” or “the twelve apostles,” and I rarely heard the terms “disciples” or “apostles” used to refer to anyone other than “the Twelve.”

Now, I understand that “the Twelve” were “apostles,” but other people were apostles as well. I also understand that “the Twelve” and the “apostles” were “disciples,” but other people were disciples as well.

Believe it or not, Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once. He uses the term “twelve” eight times. But he uses the term “disciple” over 30 times. A few times, Matthew combines the terms: “twelve apostles” or “twelve disciples.” That clarification (i.e., the fact that Matthew occasionally says “the twelve disciples”) indicates that at times Matthew is using the term “disciple” to refer to a group that does not include ONLY the Twelve.

It’s clear from reading the Gospels and Acts that many people – not just the Twelve – followed Jesus as his disciples. In fact, we learn in Acts 1, that at least 2 people – but probably more – followed Jesus from the time of his baptism by John and were still with the 120 when they were gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:21-23.)

Here’s a passage from Matthew, for example, that indicates that the term “disicples” was used to refer to more than just the Twelve:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 ESV)

Why is this important? Well, think about these questions:

Who was in the boat with Jesus when he calmed the storm? (“And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him…” Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Who did Jesus teach privately? (“Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’” Matthew 13:36 ESV)

Who did Jesus eat ‘the Last Supper’ with? (“He [Jesus] said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”‘” Matthew 26:18 ESV)

In the same way, we know that other people (besides the Twelve) were referred to as “apostles,” especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Therefore, when we read that apostles said or did something, we cannot assume that the author was referring to the Twelve. (However, as an interesting aside, perhaps Matthais was chosen to replace Judas as one of “the Twelve” in Acts 1:15-26.)

This passage by Paul specifically points out this difference:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)

Did you notice that Paul makes a distinction between “the Twelve” and “the apostles”? Notice that we see that Jesus also appears to “more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).”

So, we should be careful when we read these terms in Scripture. Otherwise, we might limit the scope and reference more narrowly than the authors intended.

Spiritual Gifts – Conclusion

The goal of this study and this series of posts was to study passages which included lists of spiritual gifts in order to determine what the writer was saying about spiritual gifts. As we’ve looked through these lists of spiritual gifts, there are several general things that we can take from our study.

First, the actual exercise, description, or definition of the gifts involved was never the emphasis for the author. In fact, we are never told exactly what the gift of apostleship entails. The gifts of tongues and giving are never described. We are not told how to exercise the gifts of prophecy or administration. The authors do not explain the differences (if there are any differences) between word of knowledge, word of wisdom, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Perhaps we can glean certain information about the various gifts from other passages of Scripture. But, if exercising, describing, or defining the gifts are never the emphasis of Scripture, then why do we emphasize this so much?

Second, we are never told to find out what our spiritual gift is. Never. Not once. Instead, we are told that God gifts us as He desires. He chooses how to use our speaking and our serving. We don’t decide. Think about this for a moment. If I speak to a group of people, some people may be taught, others may be encouraged, others may receive it as prophecy – all from the same instance of speaking. Which gift did I exercise? I suggest that I did not exercise any of the gifts. I simply spoke as God directed, and he used the speech as he chose – to teach some, to exhort others, etc. Perhaps, then, Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 4:10-11 would be the best to consider when we are going to speak or serve. We should not ask ourselves if we have the gift of teaching, but if we are speaking the words of God. We should not ask ourselves if we have the gift of serving, but are we serving in the strength that God provides.

Third, the gifts and the categories are not as clear cut as we would like to make them. I’ve already mentioned that Scripture does not tell us the difference between words of knowledge, words of wisdom, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Most definitions and descriptions come from human attempts to pull out of Scripture what is not there. Even speaking and serving are not distinctive categories. Is the gift of apostleship a speaking or serving gift? Yes. What about pastoring? Yes, again. I think this is true for all of the “gifts”. They will all include aspects of speaking and serving. Even teaching – because we are told that teaching involves both what we say and how we live.

Fourth, love is emphasized in several of the passages that list spiritual gifts. Sometimes we only give a wink and nod at love, but without love, “spiritual gifts” are not spiritual gifts. As Paul said, I can speak or give or prophesy, but without love it's all nothing. Perhaps, the next time we prepare to speak or serve, we should start by asking ourselves if we are loving the people that we want to speak to or serve. If not, then we should start with that – work out the problems before we ever start to speak or serve. Otherwise, we are doing nothing.

Fifth, we are not given spiritual gifts for our own benefit. We are given gifts by God for the benefit of others. God uses our words and our actions to exhort, comfort, edify, etc. those around us. If we are more concerned with what we are getting out of our speaking or serving, then we are not exercising spiritual gifts. In fact, if speaking and serving for the benefit of others bring glory to God (which Peter says), then speaking and serving for our own benefit do not bring glory to God.

Sixth, spiritual gifts are never connected to leadership. I’m not saying that leaders do not have spiritual gifts. However, we do not choose leaders because of their spiritual gifts. I realize that this is contrary to much contemporary teaching, especially teaching surrounding the five-fold ministries. However, if these five gifted individuals are necessary for the birth or growth of a church, it would seem that Paul or someone would have been a little more clear. Even the spiritual gift of teaching is not necessary for a leader. A leader should teach – but then, every believer is supposed to teach. Instead of choosing leaders based on their giftedness, believers should follow those who best exemplify the characteristics that all believers are supposed to have.

Seventh, and finally, when the church gathers, it should not be a one man – or even a two man – show. In fact, every believer should expect to speak to or serve brothers and sisters whenever they get together with them. Multiple people speaking or serving one at a time is not disorder – in fact, this is Paul’s very definition of order. We miss what God wants to say to us and what God wants to do among us when we do not allow everyone to speak and serve as God directs. Will it be messy? Probably. But, people are messy, and we are fooling ourselves if we think our highly planned and efficient meetings keep people from being messy. If anything, our meetings hide the messiness, or sweep it under the rug, instead of actually dealing with people and their lives and their messes.

I would love to hear what you have to say about spiritual gifts.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Peter 4:10-11

The final list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Peter 4:10-11. These two verses are part of a paragraph that beings in verse 7:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

In this passage, Peter combines all spiritual gifts into two categories: speaking and serving. Peter does not help us identifying which specific gifts belong to which category. In fact, Peter does not say that each spiritual gift easily fits within one of these two categories, or that these are the only two categories. Again, the emphasis is not on defining or describing the individual gifts.

In context and like Paul, Peter combines the concepts of sober thought and love with spiritual gifts. Remember that in Romans 12, Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts followed the exhortation to have a renewed mind and not to think too highly of oneself. Peter uses a similar verb in v. 7 to tell his readers to think soberly. Paul also echoes Peter insistence that believers demonstrate love. In fact, it is possible that spiritual gifts in verses 10-11 actually helps explain love in verse 8 (along with hospitality in verse 9). Either way, there is certainly a close connection between love and spiritual gifts.

Also like Paul, Peter recognizes that spiritual gifts originate with God and are as different as God’s “varied grace.” Peter also emphasizes that God is the source of spiritual gifts and the ability to exercise spiritual gifts when he tells his readers to speak as if they are speaking the sayings of God and to serve from strength which God provides. For Peter, there is no place for speaking human words or serving from human strength. Spiritual gifts are provided by God and are exercised through the words and strength of God.

This passage also links exercising spiritual gifts to worship. We bring glory to God when we speak the words of God and serve in the strength that God provides. This is worship, and exercising spiritual gifts encourages others toward worship. I’m not talking about “praise and worship,” as in music and singing. Instead, I’m talking about living a life in obedience to God that brings honor to God – this is worship. And, exercising spiritual gifts demonstrates and encourages worship.

Therefore, in this passage, Peter encourages his readers – and us by extension – to think rightly and to love completely by exercising the spiritual gifts that God has provided to them. They are to exercise these gifts as God provides the means and opportunities, and they are to do so in order to bring glory to God.

Spiritual Gifts – Ephesians 4:11

The last spiritual gifts list found in Paul’s writings is in Ephesians 4:11. The context for this verse is found in Ephesians 4:7-16:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:7-16)

In this passage, Paul lists four types of spiritual gifted individuals: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. (In a previous post, I have described why I consider these to be four categories instead of five. See “Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry.” In fact, I’ve covered this entire passage previously. The summary post is called “Ephesians 4:7-16 and Consistency.” There are links to the other posts in the series at the bottom of each post.) There is some overlap between this list and the other lists. Primarily, apostleship, prophecy, and teaching has been mentioned before. However, this is the first time that Paul has mentioned evangelism or shepherding, which seems to be associated with teaching. Once again, Paul does not describe how these specific individuals function. Instead, we see the results that come about when spiritually gifted individuals exercise their gifts for the benefit of the church.

Once again, Christ is the focus of this passage. In fact, Christ “measures” the gift (Ephesians 4:7); he is the “measure” of maturity (Ephesians 4:13); and he “measures” each one’s part (Ephesians 4:16). Christ is the one who descended and ascended. Similarly, Christ is the one who gives spiritual gifts to the church through its various members. Specifically, in Ephesians 4:11, Paul emphasizes that Christ is the one who gives the gifts. While this is not obvious in many translations (“And he gave…” – ESV, NASB), other translations try to bring out the emphasis found in the original: “And He Himself gave…” (NKJV), “It was he who gave…” (NET, NIV), “And He personally gave…” (HCSB).

Thus, the focus of this verse is not on the individuals, but on Christ. Because of his gift the church can be built up. Unfortunately, the focus is usually shifted to those with the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, and these are often called “equipping gifts” because Paul says that they “to equip the saints.” However, this stretches the text beyond what Paul says, and ignores the fact that the verb form of the noun translated “to equip” here is often used of all believers (i.e. see Galatians 6:1 where the same verb is rendered “to restore” instead of “to equip”).

So, again, the focus is not on these specific spiritual gifted individuals, but instead the focus is what Christ does through any gifted individual. Christ gives spiritual gifts so that he may equip the church through all of the individuals as they exercise their gifts. According to this passage, when gifted individuals exercise their spiritual gifts, the church is built up to maturity in Christ Jesus. That maturity is demonstrated when the church is not carried away by false teaching and when the church works together – each person working as Christ gifts them – to build up itself in love. Again, love is brought into the working of spiritual gifts. This is not an add-on, but an important aspect of working together.

Therefore, Paul makes this list of spiritually gifted individuals to demonstrate that the church is brought toward maturity in Jesus Christ when those gifted individuals exercise their gifts in love. Again, the focus is not on individuals, but on Jesus working through individuals to mature his church.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 14:26

The fourth list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 14:26. This is the introductory statement of a long paragraph which I believe ends at the end of this chapter (1 Corinthians 14:40). However, for the purpose of this discussion, we can look at just this one verse:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

(I’ve discussed this verse in detail in a series on 1 Corinthians 14. The conclusion of this series is called “Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 4,” and links to the other parts of the series are at the bottom of that page.) In this passage, Paul seems to list how various people implement their gifts, and not necessarily the gifts themselves. Thus, the lesson would be related to teaching, and revelation would be related to prophecy. Tongue and interepretation seem to be directly related to the gift with the same names. But what about hymn? Perhaps hymn would be a method of implementing the gifts of exhortation, or word of knowledge, or some other gift. Again, this list differs from the previous lists in this section of 1 Corinthians and it also differs from the list of spiritual gifts in Romans 12.

What is the purpose of this list? In this list of spiritual gifts, or perhaps in this list of ways to implement spiritual gifts, the emphasis is on the participation of each person, and on the purpose of each person’s emphasis. As each person comes together with other believers ready to exercise their various spiritual gifts, they all should have one purpose in mind: building up other believers, that is, helping them mature in Jesus Christ.

After the teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells the believers in Corinth that love must be the foundation of everything that they do and say (1 Corinthians 13). Remember that Paul also included instructions about love with spiritual gifts in Romans 12. This teaching on love should not be considered to be separate from spiritual gifts, but a very important part of Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts. It is impossible to properly exercise spiritual gifts without understanding and exercising love first.

Next, after teaching about love, Paul distinguishes between gifts that are easily understandable (such as prophecy) and gifts that are not understandable (such as uninterpreted tongues). When the church meets together, only gifts that are understandable should be exercised, because only understandable gifts can build up the church.

Following 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul gives guidelines to help the believers build up one another. These guidelines follow from the character of God, whose character is one of peace, not of disturbance. Thus, even as everyone comes together ready to build up others, there still needs to be order (one at a time) so that everyone can participate and everyone can be edified.

Therefore, Paul uses the list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:26 to give examples of how believers can exercise their spiritual gifts when the church meets together. However, the list is punctuated with the command to make sure that everything done is done for the purpose of edifying other believers.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 12:28-30

The third list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)

Paul lists the following spiritual gifts and gifted persons in this passage: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healing, helping, administrating, various kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. Once again, Paul does not define or describe the various gifts.

Interestingly, there are two lists in this passage, but the two lists are not identical. Most of these gifts are listed in the previous section (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). However, teaching is not mentioned in the previous passage, and the gifts of administration and helping are unique to this list. Also, there are some gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 which are not mentioned here (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, discernment). It seems that Paul was not working from a “standard” list of spiritual gifts.

Prior to this passage, Paul has just completed a long section where he used the “body of Christ” metaphor to encourage believers to see themselves as part of one another, working together for a common goal. He has exhorted them to recognize the importance of each individual and the necessity of each person’s gift for the health of the body.

In this passage, Paul reminds his readers that it is God himself who chooses how to apportion the spiritual gifts. The believers do not have the right nor the ability to choose their spiritual gifts. As we will see later, believers do have the capacity or the potential of exercising any spiritual gift, if God so desires. However, at this point, Paul says that this is not the way to God generally works within a group of believers. Instead, God chooses the various gifts that a person should or should not exercise based upon his will in building the health of the church.

Since Paul has just told the Corinthians that no spiritual gift is more important than another, it would seem that he does not enumerate apostles, prophets, and teachers because of their importance. Instead, it would seem more likely (given his previous teaching) that he is simply using the ordinal numbers as a rhetorical device, much as we would number chapters in a book without necessarily specifying the relative importance of those chapters.

What can we learn from this list of spiritual gifts in context? God chooses the gifts that he desires for each of us to exercise – we don’t choose. God does not gift everyone in the same way.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 12:8-10

The second list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. This passage is part of a paragraph that includes 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Let’s examine this list of spiritual gifts in context:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

In this passage, Paul lists the following spiritual gifts: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Paul lists gifts and the individuals gifted in this list, but he does not say anything about the specific gifts themselves. The only common gift between this list and the list in Romans 12 is the gift of prophecy.

This passage contains the first of three lists of spiritual gifts and gifted individuals in 1 Corinthians 12, a section that deals predominately with spiritual gifts. However, we should still consider each list separately to try to determine why Paul used the list.

In these particular verses, the reason for the list seems clear. In four sentences (vs. 4, 5, 6, and 11), Paul emphasizes the varieties of gifts within the unity of God. The gifts are described as gifts, service, and activities in verses 4-6. But, as Paul says, though the gifts vary, they each have the same purpose: the common good. And, though the gifts vary, they are each given as God through his Spirit desires.

This lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are simply examples of the “varities of gifts” that are given according to the will of God and for the common good. This sets the stage for the following passage concerning the body of Christ. According to Paul, every member of the body is important, and every gift is important. There are no unimportant parts of the body of Christ. In fact, Paul will say that the parts that seem unimportant are actually considered more important and are given more honor by God.

Therefore, the author does not list spiritual gifts in this passage in order to discuss how to exercise each gift, but instead to show that the gifts are given for the good of other people – in other words, there is one purpose in spite of the fact that there are many different gifts.