1st Corinthians - Wayne Barber/Part 74 | John Ankerberg Show

1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 74

By: Dr. Wayne Barber
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By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998
We need to live attached to Christ. Now, what I mean by that, we are already attached to Him as believers. When you get saved, you are attached. He attaches you to Himself. You are a part of His body. However, to live attached to Him means on our end towards Him and our willingness to surrender to Him, to yield to His Word, to yield to His will. When that happens, there is automatic growth in our life.

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1 Corinthians 12:12

The Signs of Spiritual Immaturity–Part 1

We are finally here in 1 Corinthians 12. As we ease into it, let’s look at “The Signs of Spiritual Immaturity.” We are going to have to do some review to make sure we are in the flow and getting into chapter 12. We need to live attached to Christ. Now, what I mean by that, we are already attached to Him as believers. When you get saved, you are attached. He attaches you to Himself. You are a part of His body. However, to live attached to Him means on our end towards Him and our willingness to surrender to Him, to yield to His Word, to yield to His will. When that happens, there is automatic growth in our life.

Let me show you this. In chapter 3, Paul beautifully shows us this. Turn to 1 Corinthians 3:6. All of this is just simply in review to make sure we have the proper setting in which chapters 1214 are couched. He points back to when he was the first pastor of the church there in Corinth and very faithfully planted the Word of God in their hearts. He told them earlier that he preached the whole counsel. He didn’t leave anything out. He preached the Word faithfully to them.

Then he points to when Apollos, the second pastor, followed him and watered what he had taught. Verse 6 says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” Now that little phrase, “God was causing the growth,” or “giving the growth” is in the imperfect tense. And that imperfect tense means that He was consistently, as these two effective pastors were faithfully teaching the word, God working in them and through them and with the Word was causing growth to take place. A man cannot cause growth. God has to do that.

But then in verse 7 he changes the tenses. He moves from imperfect to the present tense. He says, “So then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” He puts it in the present tense. In other words, God is always causing growth. You attach yourself to Him, you’ve attached yourself to the very principle of life and growth itself, and you cannot live surrendered to Him and not grow. It is like trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant when you attach yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ. You find a Christian that is not growing, and you will find a Christian not attached, not living surrendered to God’s Word and God’s will. That is the only problem with him is that he won’t surrender. If he’ll surrender, God is always causing the growth.

Now there was a time in Corinth when the believers were growing. This can only mean that they were taking what they had heard and they were receiving it and obeying it. They were living up under truth attached to, by faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, surrendered to His will, surrendered to His Word. But something happened somewhere down the line. He can point back to when they were growing, but now their growth had become stunted and they attached themselves to everything but Christ.

In verse 12 of chapter 1, by the time that Paul wrote this, this was the situation they were in. He says, “Some of you are of Paul, some of you are of Cephas, some of you are of Apollos.” You are attaching yourselves to men. You are not attaching yourselves to Christ. Flesh had won out and was now ruling their life.

Now think of it. Corinth, one of the best-taught churches in the New Testament; and by the time Paul writes this, they are now the example of nothing but pure flesh and the havoc it can reap amongst those who know truth but do not live it. Now, solid teaching—now hear me—solid teaching is not enough. Solid biblical teaching is not enough. You ask, “Why?” Because if a person is not willing to respond to what he knows and what God has revealed to him, it produces pride and arrogance in that person’s life, and the enigma is that the person becomes deceived by that which he thought that he already knew.

A beautiful example of this is in chapter 8. They knew truth but weren’t living up under it. What you understand is not the key, it is how you live and respond to what you understand. In chapter 8 he is dealing with the problem of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Now I am not going to go back and repreach that, but before he answers the question, he acknowledges the wealth of knowledge that the church had, not only from him but from Apollos. And he says in 8:1, “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.” In other words, there was plenty of knowledge to go around. They had an understanding. This understanding had to be in the area of grace. They knew that if they ate meat sacrificed to idols, that would in no way infringe upon their relationship with God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. In no way would that affect their eternal standing with God. They knew that. They knew that 90% of the meat sold in the marketplace was meat sacrificed to idols. They knew, they didn’t even have to ask. They could just go in and buy it. They didn’t have any trouble eating that meat. They understood the message of grace.

But that understanding had not helped them whatsoever. Because if you are not living under grace, even though you may understand it, you fail to see an extra piece of the puzzle that needs to be there. In other words, knowledge is not enough. He says in the last part of that verse, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” In other words, if you are not living surrendered to Christ, which is the message of grace, His enabling power in your life, then there is no fruit of His Spirit in your life. So therefore, what you know you will use to break your brother rather than build your brother.

Something had happened to this church. They knew. They had been well taught. They could sit in a group and debate and win the argument every time. They understood, but they were upside down because they weren’t willing to live in obedience to what they knew.

As a matter of fact, you can see clearly what happened to them in 3:14. Here is the Corinthian church. Here is what is wrong with them. Knowledgeable, well taught, but babies. They would not grow up. They wouldn’t come out of that nursery. In verse 1 of chapter 3, the apostle Paul takes them back to Acts 18 when he first went there and when many were saved. Remember, he went and made tents with Priscilla and Aquila. Then Silas and them came over and so they started witnessing and a church was birthed there. He points them back to that time.

He says in verse 1, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.” That little term “men of flesh,” is sarkinos. It comes from the word sarkikos, which is used in verses 3 and 4. But as far as I can get out of it, that word has more of the idea that you had the attitude of a baby. Now, a baby is going to live like a baby. Babies are babies, but that’s okay. When they are first born, you tolerate that because you expect that out of their life. And he is not in any way indicting them. In verse 1 he is just simply saying you were babies back then and you acted like babies and that is okay. There is a time for being a baby.

There is a thirst to being a baby in verse 2. He says, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.” In other words, you couldn’t chew the deeper things. And that doesn’t mean he watered down what he taught. What he taught was the Word of God. It is the Spirit who makes it milk to one person and meat to another. It depends on where you are in your level of maturity as to how that communicates in your life. And so he is not indicting them. Babies act like babies; babies drink milk because that is all babies can feed on.

Then comes the indictment in the middle of verse 2. He says, “Indeed, even now you are not yet able.” There is the problem. Back then was not a problem because you were growing, you had just been birthed. But the problem is, you are still in that nursery. And I want to tell you what, oh, how these babies, spiritual babies, well taught, had caused such havoc in the church at Corinth.

Now you want to see what a baby can do? You get a bunch of folks my age or more, 55 or whatever over, and you get a bunch of us together. We are going to have a good meal. We are going to have some fellowship. You take one baby, one who hasn’t been fed in a while, one who is a little bit tired and put it right in the middle of that group. And I want to tell you, the things you thought you were going to do, you won’t do. And the things that you thought you were going to eat, you won’t eat. And the time that you thought you were going to have, you don’t have. That little baby will control every single thing that is going on.

Now you can imagine, when you have got a whole church full of them, the havoc that was caused in that early church. The symptoms of babies living like babies, who won’t grow up, first of all was an apathy to sin. In chapter 5 we see there that they were tolerating a sin that shocked the world. A man in their midst was living with his father’s wife, probably his stepmother. You have incest and adultery going on at the same time. And they won’t even deal with it. They are just apathetic to the whole thing. “Well, you know, it is his life. He has to learn to figure it out himself.”

In chapter 6, we see the vengefulness toward each other. You know, babies offend one another. But not only did they offend each other and live that way, but they took each other to court when it was costly. Buddy, they would sue each other at the drop of a hat. They had no witness whatsoever in pagan Corinth in the courts because of the way they treated one another.

In chapter 6 we also see their fleshly indulgence. Immorality was all over the city, and here are these little babies who won’t respond to truth, who won’t attach themselves to Christ by faith. And as a result of it, now they begin to be pulled into the immorality of the city.

In verse 18 of chapter 6, Paul has to say, “Flee immorality. Run from it!” We also see in chapter 7 the confused ideas that they had of the family and marriage. Their marriages and their families were in shambles, and they didn’t know what to do. They were totally confused. In chapters 8-10, which is a unit and must be looked at as a unit, we see their insensitivity to one another; people who knew beating up people who didn’t know with the Word of God. They used it as a club rather than the truth that could set people free.

And then in chapter 11 we see all their bitter relationships, factions, divisions, all of this kind of garbage surface at the taking of the Lord’s Supper. They totally desecrated the Lord’s Supper. Now this is the havoc that takes place when you have people who know, but people who don’t respond and live what they know. It completely perverts their lifestyle, and as a result, it causes nothing but confusion and chaos. Carnal, immature, unspiritual, sick and anemic lives are the result of people who won’t live attached to the Lord Jesus by faith and surrender to His will and to His Word.

This is the setting for chapters 1214. You must understand this. This is a pitiful church, a pitiful excuse for anybody to call themselves Christians. That is the setting for chapters 12-14. Paul is dealing with a group of people who do not walk by faith. They lived in their feelings. They walked by sight. They were attached to their flesh and not to Christ. Truth was nothing but a distortion to the Christians who are in Corinth. You see, you don’t possess truth; truth must possess you. And if it doesn’t possess you, you don’t know truth. You think you do, but you don’t know what you think you know. That is what he said back in chapter 8 when he was referring to this very thing.

In the last two verses of chapter 11, he one more time brings God’s judgment upon them, these Christians who were weak and sick and some were dead because of their behavior. He one more time recalls them to proper respect for one another and care about one another. In verse 33 he says, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” The word “wait” is the word “tarry,” give respect to that other person.

You see, what was happening, the rich would go in and eat all the food. The poor were hungry, while the rich were drunk and full. And he says, “You wait upon each other. Respect one another. This is a sacred time. It is when the body comes together in unity, not in division.

Then in verse 34 he says, “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment.” Don’t come to the Lord’s Supper that way. “And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.” In other words, that wasn’t all. They had been asking questions since chapter 7. He is just answering questions. He said, “There are some more things that you asked me, but when I come I will straighten those things out.”

Now that leads us then to chapters 12-14. Now again, chapters 1214 must be taken as a unit, just like chapters 810 must be taken as a unit. We must understand now this fleshly minded, upside down, distorted church as we enter in to chapters 12-14. Paul immediately, once again starts pulling to the surface the signs of spiritual immaturity that exists among them. And you have to see that because so many times you jump into chapter 12 and immediately you go to verse 8 down. But you don’t get into verses 1 and 2. Those verses set the stage here. He is telling them something we need to take time and understand.

Ignorance of spiritual matters

The first sign of spiritual immaturity that he brings up in verse 1 is ignorance of spiritual matters. Now, what a task Paul has here, straightening out these upside down believers here at Corinth. It is interesting how we live in two worlds. He dealt with the physical world of chapter 11, the physical public worship. But in chapter 12, now he is going to enter into the spiritual dimension. We live in the physical, but we also live in the spiritual; two worlds at the same time. And that is very confusing to some people. Now, we can ignore the physical and suffer the consequences. That is the law of living in the physical of this world that we live in.

It is the same way in the spiritual world. We can ignore the spiritual world, but we have to live in the consequences of ignoring it. The Christians at Corinth were living in the consequences of ignoring their spiritual walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. He says in verse 1, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.”

That little word “now” that starts off the verse is the little word de in the Greek language. It is the little word that can be translated “now” or “but.” I think it ought to be translated “but” because he is changing gear. He is shifting from the physical world and in the public worship into the spiritual dimension here and is making a definite contrast.

“But,” he says, “concerning spiritual gifts.” Now the word “gifts” I will deal with in just a second, because it is really not there. Let’s talk about the word “spiritual” first. The word “spiritual” is the Greek word that comes from the word pneuma, which means spirit. It is that which refers to the characteristic faculty that God has given us to communicate with Him. Man to God and God to man. It is in that spirit that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell, giving us that access to the Father and giving us that communication with Him.

Now this word stands in contrast to another word, psuchikos, which is used over in 2:14 that deals with the soulish part of man. The soul is that aspect of man that he really shares with the rest of this kingdom that is here on this earth. Even animals have something like this. It is what gives you the ability to relate to the world around you; whereas, in contrast, the spiritual part of man is that which gives us the ability, once saved, to relate to the world above us. The soul gives us the relation of the world around us; the spiritual gives us the ability to relate to the world that is above us.

Now, we must make another correction to the task. He says, “Now concerning the spiritual gifts.” The word “gifts” is not in the literal. That is written in by translators. The word is simply “spiritual,” used in the plural, and referring to the many manifold aspects of the spiritual realm. “But concerning spiritual matters,” would be a better way of translating that. Now gifts are a part of these things, but not just gifts.

He says, “You Corinthians, you don’t understand public physical worship and you don’t even understand spiritual things.” He is not just talking about gifts. In fact, this was the problem of the church of Corinth. They stressed only one aspect of the life in the Spirit and, therefore, neglected the rest of it.

That is exactly what is going on in America today. People are zeroing in on one aspect of the spiritual but leaving out other aspects of the spiritual. The flesh always tends to exaggerate what it sees and what it experiences. It lives in the sensual. Remember this. If you are not living up under the spiritual power of God, you are living according to the flesh, and the flesh always exaggerates what it experiences and what it perceives and what it sees.

I will give you an example of that. When you isolate one area of the spiritual life, the spiritual dimension, you become unbalanced. Take the area of prayer, for instance. If that is the only thing you are interested in, you have missed the balance of the Christian life. You perhaps don’t understand spiritual things. You are zeroing in on one thing of the spiritual life. What about surrender to the Word of God? What about living in the fullness of the Spirit of God? What about all the other things that go along with it? You can’t just isolate one thing. You have to have an understanding of spiritual matters, of spiritual things.

Now, in the physical world to give you an example, if you have someone who over-exaggerates one aspect of physical life, then what we do with those kinds of people, if it is a pattern of their lifestyle, we put them in institutions because they are imbalanced. They don’t understand where that little piece fits and so they over do and exaggerate that one piece.

It is the same way in the spiritual life. And what happens when you are living like the Corinthians, everything is distorted. You will tend to exaggerate that which you see, that which you touch and that which you feel. So experience becomes a hedge around the things that you tend to exaggerate. Paul says, “This is what your problem is, you don’t understand spiritual matters, much less the gifts and the teaching on the gifts.”

You see, the world of the spirit is only accessed by faith. It is there all the time, but the only way you access it is by faith in the Word of God and obedience to Him. And when you access it, your senses and what you see, touch and feel, do not in any way prove or disprove the spiritual world. It is only accommodated, it is only accessed, through our willingness to attach ourselves to Christ. If I am not willing to walk by faith, if I am not willing to die to the ugliness of my flesh, if I am not willing to do that, then I have not accessed, I have ignored the spiritual world. The result of that is a distorted view of spiritual things.

Paul was displeased with their obvious imbalance and ignorance of spiritual things. He said, “I do not want you to be unaware.” Now the word “unaware” is the word agnoeo. We saw that over in Romans, without understanding, without knowledge. It is a transmitted knowledge. It is actually the understanding that comes with that knowledge. “I don’t want you to walk around,” he says, “as spiritual ignoramuses.” That’s another way to put that. “You people are so upside down. You are ignorant of spiritual things, so why in the world do you want to talk about this or that? You don’t even understand the whole picture. You won’t live attached to Christ. You have attached yourself to everything but Him.”

It is the word we get the word “agnostic” from. An agnostic is one who has not experienced or cannot experience something, and therefore, he does not know and does not believe. But he is ignorant and he is ignorant not because it’s impossible for him to know, but because he refuses to realize that there are certain things that cannot be known unless there is a capacity for knowing. And until he puts his faith into Christ, then he is not going to know beyond that point.

Paul tells them that because of their fleshly living, their refusal to surrender what they know, they do not have understanding of spiritual matters, not just the gifts, but in the spiritual realm itself. He is displeased that they don’t have this.

Now, you see, we must be careful to realize that the greatest and most extraordinary miracle that God has ever given to us is putting His Spirit into us and establishing communication between Himself and us. It is amazing, isn’t it? You find a person who doesn’t live in that daily, that person is always looking for a miracle here, a miracle there, a miracle everywhere. And he completely ignores the greatest miracle, a transformed life. God lives in him to reveal Himself to him. And if he will just accommodate him by faith and attach himself to Him, that is the miracle of salvation and nothing can top it.

But if you are living outside of that miracle and you are not walking in the Word of God and you are not living surrendered to Christ, then no wonder you tend to exaggerate things in the spiritual realm. Not only did Corinth not understand physical public worship, they didn’t understand and were completely distorted in the area of spiritual matters. Why? Because they would not bow.

“Now, concerning spiritual things, brethren, I don’t want you to be ignoramuses. I don’t want you to remain ignorant and unaware.” So first of all, he points them to the first sign of spiritual immaturity and that is an ignorance of spiritual things.

The influence of a pagan past

The second thing he is going to point to is going to take me a little longer. If I am not influenced by the Spirit of God, then my flesh is influencing me and my flesh is being influenced by my pagan past. Look at verse 2: “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols.” Do you mean that is the only thing that happened when they were pagans? What about talking about immorality? Why not talk about some other things? Drunkenness or other things? Come on, that is not the only thing they did. No, he picked out the main thing that all of them could relate to that goes back to their pagan past.

“You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however, you were led.” That is an interesting translation. We will get to it in a moment. The word, “you know” there is a word oidate. That tends to have a little different meaning than the word ginosko, which means you know by experience. It is transmitted knowledge. But oidate is not that way. It is intuitive knowledge.

In the spiritual realm, when you are living attached to Christ and in His Word, there is a knowing that God gives to you. As a matter of fact, it is there whether you are or you are not. It is built in. It comes in with the package. The Holy Spirit of God gives it to you. Romans 8:28, “For we know that God causes all things to work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.” What word is used there? Intuitive knowledge. You didn’t go to school to get that.

Now, when you have this intuition, the spiritual intuitive knowledge, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need more knowledge, but there are certain basic things that Christians just simply know. It is built in, comes in with the package. The Holy Spirit brings that understanding. The first thing you intuitively know when you get saved is the difference of what is now and what is in the past. The first thing you know, you know the roots of every problem that you are facing.

Now let me throw that out to you. If you are not living surrendered to Christ and being under the influence of His Holy Spirit, you are living under the influence of your flesh, then what is that problem that comes back from your past and haunts you? Is it immorality? Is it covetousness? Is it bitterness? What is it that goes back to your past pagan life that used to dominate you? And you know that the roots of what you are dealing with now are set back in the setting of what you were when you did not know Christ. Everybody knows that. That’s intuitive. It is built in. You don’t get saved and start having this problem. You had it before you got saved. However, now you have victory over that problem. But if you are not going to live in the victory, then you are going to have to go back and be influenced by what happened in your pagan past. That is where the roots are.

Now, what was the root of the problem the Corinthian believers were having in chapters 1214? If you go through chapters 1214, it is not just gifts. One of the major issues that he deals with is the tongues issue. Everybody has been waiting to see what I’m going to say about it. I am just praying that whatever I say will come forth with such love that you can receive it and if we disagree, we will just choose to disagree. But I am going to do my best to honor the text as much as I know how. But that was the major problem.

Well, if that is the major problem dealt with in 12, mentioned again in 13 but also really picked up in 14, then what was the pagan influence and the root that goes back to before they got saved? Now this is significant, I think, to the text. “You know that when you were pagans.” The word “pagan” translated in the New American Standard is the word translated “Gentiles” in the King James Version. What is the difference? Well, there really isn’t, because the word is the ethnos. It means “pagan.” That is why it is correctly translated that way. But the word comes from a word referring to ethnic groups, or nations of the world. That is why it can be translated “Gentiles,” because you are thinking of the pagan nations of the world.

Now this is a very important point. The word translated “pagan” in its root form comes from the word ethos, which means mass or host or multitude, referring to those who are bound by the same customs, by the same language, by the same rituals, whatever. You are bound by that. Now that is that word. It means you have a language that binds you. You have customs that bind you. You have other things that bind you and identify you.

I need to show you the four words that are interrelated when it comes to this kind of thing. When you talk about ethnic groups, when you talk about nations, there are four words and perhaps it would be good for us to know them. Look over in Revelation 14:6. All four of them are found in one verse. Interestingly, some of them are going to reappear in chapters 1214. Revelation 14:6 reads, “And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth [so these nations live on the earth], and to every nation [number one], every tribe, every tongue and every people.” Now there are four different words. I want to show you what they are.

The first one, every nation, is the word that we are looking at, or a similar word that we are looking at there in 1 Corinthians 12. The word “tribe” is phule. It has a little bit different meaning than just a people who have a common bond. The word “tribe” refers to national unity of a common descent. It is very similar but just a little bit different.

The word laos, or “people,” the last word that is used there, is used as a political unity with a common history and a constitution. Then the word glossa is the word used for “tongue” which means a known, understandable, common language that binds these people together.

So you see the four words that can be used; all of them very similar, but each one having a little twist and a difference from the other. The word ethnos, or pagan nation, as in Gentiles, the word we are looking at, is the lesser or the weaker of all four of those words. So he is simply pointing to the nations that are pagan of this world. He doesn’t have anything political in it. He doesn’t have anything of their language barrier or anything like that. He is just saying, “Back when you were a member of the pagan nations of this world.”

Oh, don’t miss this. Don’t miss this. Listen, that word is always used or most of the time used to differentiate between the Jewish people and the pagan nations of the world, almost every time you find it. Never, never, never can you put Jewish people in this word. This is a pagan word. Understand what I am saying now. Here it is used to differentiate between Christians and the pagan people of this world. But there is a thought in this. Why did Paul use that word? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire him to use that word? Oh, don’t lose me here now. I think that what he is saying is that most of you people in Corinth do not have a Jewish background. Now, some of them did, but most of them did not. They had a pagan background. Now there was something about their pagan background that had everything to do with the problems they were facing.

He was saying to them, “Listen, if you can came from Judaism, which is a monotheistic, God ordained nation, if you would have come from Judaism, you would not have any of the problems you have in 1214. But because you come out of the pagan nations of this world, the idolatrous nations of this world, this is having something to do with the problem I am now having to address to you in chapters 12, 13 and 14. Something about your pagan past directly relating to these tongues and these unknown tongues and all that, has something to do with the fact that you came out of a pagan background, not out of a Jewish background, because there is something in your pagan background that lured you and influenced then and influences now your life.”

Now what is he talking about? Go back. “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols,” however you were led. Now “you were led astray” there is in the present passive voice. Present tense means you were constantly being led. Passive voice means you didn’t have anything to say about it. You were captivated. You were being led. Something lured you. Something that was in control of you. Something got your attention. Something swept you away toward these pagan idols.

The little word “to” is pros, a motion toward something. Now what I see here is that Paul is referring to something about their pagan past that had to do with the idolatry of that pagan past, and it had to do with a lifestyle that consistently was pulling and luring them toward these idols during their pagan years. They could relate back to it. It influenced them then and, evidently, because they are living lives after the flesh, had come back to influence them now.

Now what in the world is that? Do you remember back when we started the book of 1 Corinthians, I gave you a little bit of history. Having been in Corinth, I found out that every pagan temple in Corinth, but particularly the Temple of Apollos, which is the main temple in downtown Corinth, had what I would call gurus. That is not what they were called. I’ll tell you where they get their influence from. These gurus would go into what they called the state of ecstasy. They would sit crosslegged on a tripod in what they call the holy of holies of their temple. Of course, that was the pagan gods I am talking about here. I am using that to give you a little bit of an idea of how they copied what God’s people used. They would be in the inner most sanctum, sitting up on this tripod and they would go into a trance. Now they could have no intelligent thought in their mind whatsoever.

When they would get into this trance, they were intoxicated by certain things they would eat and certain things they would drink. And suddenly, they began to speak in an unknown tongue. It was an ecstatic tongue. It was nothing more than pure gibberish. Nobody ever understood it. But let me tell you where this came from. All of this was influenced by the Oracles of Delphi. Delphi was a place not far from Corinth and it was built around the temple to Apollos. Now we must understand something here. This temple of Apollos had affected the temple of Aphrodite and affected the temple of Poseidon and people began to line up under these people who had reached a state of ecstasy and, “I am of him” and “I am of him,” and “I am of him.” And Paul says, “Hey, you Christians are acting just like the nonChristians. ‘You are of Paul’,’ you are of Cephas’. They are doing the same thing. They have got their gurus. They have got their people who speak in this ecstatic language, and they think somehow they have been given something by the divine itself.”

Now that was a lure, idolatrous lure that had captivated these people in their pagan past and now had cropped up again in their Christianity. You see, in Dephi where all this got started—or maybe it didn’t get started, but it was really promoted there—a few miles from Corinth in Greece, they had these oracles. Now, what was an oracle? An oracle was a priestess woman through whom a deity was believed to speak. The deity had to pick a person because the stone idols were dumb—remember, that is the word he chooses to use himself—they couldn’t speak. Now, it was either that or a shrine to which a deity revealed hidden knowledge or the divine purpose.

What really took place at Delphi? Those who wanted to consult the oracle, who wanted this divine knowledge, would go to this temple of Apollos. They would sacrifice a sheep, a goat, a boar, or some other animal, which they had to pay for, by the way. After which, if the omens were favorable, they entered the room adjoining the inner shrine, the inner sanctum of the temple of Apollo. Now remember that the temple of Apollo was also in downtown Corinth. I want you to keep remembering that. There they awaited their turn and they basically drew straws, but unless one of the priestesses had given you special favor and you could go in ahead of the rest of them, no women were allowed in this, none at all. They handed in questions written on leaden tablets, many of which have now been discovered.

The priestess was called a pythia, the pythia or priestess who delivered the oracle usually was somebody, a pleasant woman over 50 years of age. That was the key one at Delphi. She would purify herself in a spring there in that mountain that they thought was sacred, called a castalian fountain, and then she drank out of another cup that was supposed to be a holy drink or water. And then she would eat of a laurel leaf and then she would get up on this tripod. She appeared to be intoxicated by the breathing in of all the fumes of the drink and stuff that she had. And she kept inhaling, and inhaling and inhaling and suddenly, she would break out into this gibberish that nobody understood.

Interestingly, she had people sitting around her who would put it into some kind of poetry. And the people who went to get the knowledge, were more mystified when they left than they were when they went. But you know what they did? They said, “I don’t know what we heard, but it was good. The divine spoke to me.”

Well, this was the form of religion that was prevalent in their pagan past, wrapped around idolatry. It brought great riches to Dephi and to the surrounding area, especially Corinth. It began to be famous in the 7th Century BC. It started around the Hedonistic period which was the Greek influence. It continued during Paul’s ministry in Greece, both in Athens and Corinth, particularly those two places. It was not until the reign of Emperor Theodocius in AD 394 that the Delphic oracles were ordered closed and the entire area was destroyed. But the peak of their existence was right in the midst of the writing of the letter of 1 Corinthians and that is what we have got to see.

If you ignore this one piece, you are already sidetracking the direction Paul is taking for chapters 1214. You cannot ignore this verse. He said there was something in your past tied directly to idolatrous practices that lured you and captivated you and drew you into it. He is saying to these fleshly minded Christians, “Remember your past heathenism. Remember your past that hailed from the Delphic worship.”

That is 1 Corinthians 12:2. You must see this influence of pagan practices in the past. It is indeed worthy to note that such a situation as Paul had to address only occurred in Corinth. No other epistle addresses it, only Corinth, which had the close proximity to the oracles of Dephi. Listen to his words introducing this. He says in verse 2, “You know that when you were pagans, you were [passive voice, present tense] being led astray.” That “being led astray” has the idea of helplessness. It goes on to say “to the dumb idols.” The word “dumb” there means that had no voice, it could not speak.

And then he says, “however you were led.” That really means the manner in which you were led, helplessly. He says, “Now I have got something to say to you Corinthians who are upside down, who have a lot of knowledge but won’t surrender to it. You have distorted the whole truth of spiritual things. You don’t even understand. You are ignorant of spiritual matters. And before we can ever approach the gifts over here that you want to talk about, let me first of all show you why you are ignorant. Your flesh is so dominating you that your past pagan life has begun to influence you again, and you have allowed it to creep right into your thinking towards spiritual matters when you have distorted what the truth of those things really are.”

Being pagan, it was natural for them to be led that way. But being Christian, it is unnatural. How many Christians do you know who live in the unnatural instead of living in the natural, because they won’t surrender? They let their flesh rule. This is what happens when flesh rules. It exaggerates the sensual. It focuses on it, isolates it, and exaggerates it. Not only that, but it lets its pagan past continue to be an influence in its life.

Do you think you cannot be influenced by a pagan past? You think the Christians at Corinth weren’t being influenced by a pagan past? Don’t touch chapter 12 until that is nailed down solid in your mind. It is a pitiful, fleshly, carnal, upside down church that had knowledge but their truth was distorted because they wouldn’t live it. And they exaggerated anything that was sensual, showing that they had no capacity to understand the balance of spiritual matters. Look out. The flesh will deceive you.

Read Part 75

Dr. Wayne Barber

Dr. Wayne Barber

Wayne has taught the message of “Living Grace” around the world. He is president, founder, and principal speaker of Living Grace Ministries and Senior Pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He learned to exegete Scripture by studying for 10 years with Spiros Zodhiates, one of the leading Greek scholars.
Dr. Wayne Barber

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