Saturday 7 September 2019


Global Warming, Pollution, "My Neighbour" — and Tesla

What for Paul was the foundation of the gospel message, the foundation upon which he built?

When he had decided to write a detailed letter to the Romans in which to set out his presentation of the Christian Faith, he announces this thus (see Romans 1:11-17): “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong. ... I am eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” He then asserts the Lordship of God Almighty, on display in the Creation (1:19- 20): “since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

When Paul was addressing Jews, he began with the common ground of their Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:3, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”) However, when Paul was invited to address the pagan Athenians of the Areopagus on Mars Hill, he began with God’s creation (Acts 17:19-34): “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. ... this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth.” He proceeded to present God as the Creator of all things, and from this he then advanced to Christ’s Resurrection. But there they stopped him dead. They found this quite ridiculous. “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered.” This was just too much for them. And then there were others who said to Paul, “Oh yes, we want to hear more about this subject, but not right now. Yes, some more. But some other time. Perhaps.” (See Acts 17:32.) But, as always when the gospel was presented, there were “Some of the people [who] became followers of Paul, and believed” (17:34). But we note that Paul had begun his address by presenting the Lord God as Creator of all things.

Similarly in Romans 8:19 Paul writes about “the creation” and then moves forward (verse 34) to “Christ Jesus who died — more than this, who was raised to life.”


At this present time, God’s earth is confronted by a planet-wide crisis. Indeed, right now the earth is under a sustained vicious attack: great damage is currently being done to God’s Creation by global warming. And this issue matters. This global warming is due to the accumulation in our atmosphere of greenhouse gases. In particular these gases are CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide. To a significant extent these gases are due to the burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas. In world history up till now these fuels have been a great boon to us — in many ways they have been the foundation of civilization, and of our worldwide culture. But now these greenhouse gases that they produce are forming a blanket that is wrapped around the entire planet and is smothering us in dangerous pollution. Furthermore it is raising the earth’s temperature so that the earth is becoming less habitable for ourselves — and for other life forms, many of which are becoming extinct.

This is no slight matter, which will simply go away. The members of the family of God, the church, have a God-given responsibility to do what we can to help in this matter, because we have been charged with taking care of the Earth. We need to start by making ourselves familiar with the facts of the situation: facts about the damage being done to God’s Creation. And its causes — seeing that God specifically committed it to our care and concern (Genesis 1:28). This care of the earth is not a diversion from our responsibility for the world-wide proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord (Matthew 28:19- 20): rather, care of the earth is part of the gospel. It is an essential part, in practical terms, of our role in the care of our neighbour — which is Christ’s “second Commandment” (Matthew 22:39//Mark 12:31). And this global warming is threatening the continuing habitability of this planet. Things are that serious.

Now, there are some aspects of the causes of global warming over which we have little control (if any). But there is one cause of this crisis, to which we can respond positively, and where we can make a huge difference to what happens. There is a way in which we can act. And should act. For we humans have built our lifestyle, our present world civilization, upon the burning of fossil fuels for our energy needs. These fossil fuels, which we source out of the ground, are coal, oil, and gas — and at present we seem to think, by and large, that we cannot function without using them. But we can. And we must change. We must transition away from fossil fuels as speedily as this change can be implemented. This transition is a matter of urgency. We must recognize the facts about this. In this matter we must change our thinking, as Paul teaches us (Romans 12:2). In accordance with what he says here in this passage, we must “cease to conform to the pattern of the world” on this issue. Rather, as he says in this passage, we must “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Yes, what we need is actually to be transformed to a different way of thinking. One which, instead of resulting (as now) in damaging the liveability of Planet Earth, will restore its climate and its fruitfulness, for the benefit of all who live upon it. Including those which, and who, are due to arrive to live upon it in the future. For this is the earth about which, as Psalm 115:16 says, “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.” Let us in full conscience accept the responsibility of this gift as a sacred trust from the Lord, and act accordingly. Let us act in accordance with a full responsibility to fix those things which harm the planet. And there is, moreover, a major moral dimension to this issue, of which Christians have an especial need to be aware.

The problem is that whilever we continue burning fossil fuel, we are making the situation progressively worse. The two main ways we are making things worse are (a) through fossil-fuel-burning power plants that produce energy for our use, and (b) from the gases produced by the Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) used in our motor vehicles.

There is a transition which is in the process now of gradually taking place in this world. We must deliberately choose that we will play our part in this transition. For we can make a difference to the outcome of what is now happening. First, let us heed what Paul instructs us (Romans 12:2), and renew our thinking. This is very relevant. For let us recognize that God’s gifts for our benefit (fossil fuels) have now, through the activity of our enemy, become turned instead to be used against us, to our harm. We can perceive how what Paul writes about this issue in Ephesians 6:10-18 exactly fits our situation. Now, I realize that ours is not the first situation in world history to which this passage has applied. But in any case it applies again to us right now.

Be part of this transition. Let us recognize that God’s gifts for our benefit (fossil fuels) have been taken over for the forces of God’s enemies (whom Paul can identify), and are now being used against us. (See Ephesians 6:10-16). Recognize how exactly this description fits our situation.
If we were to think that this present situation of damaging global warming is none of our business as Christians, this is faulty thinking! The Lord has made it our business when he commissioned us to care for the earth (Genesis 1:28). If we believe that there is nothing we can do to help, we are mistaken! There is much we can do. In a proverbial “nutshell”, we need to act in obedience to God’s command through Isaiah (1:16-17): “Cease to do evil. Learn how to practise what is right.” Now let us unpack this in further detail.


The burning of fossil fuels has long been recognized as God’s good gift, and a great benefit for mankind, but it has now become an evil: for it produces the noxious polluting greenhouse gases that are a primary cause of global warming. First then, we need to take prompt and effective steps so as to “Cease to do evil.” We must initiate whatever action is needed in order to change this harmful way of living. This means we must leave the fossil fuels in the ground.

Then the second part of the Lord’s command through the prophet Isaiah is, “Learn how to practise what is right.” Applying this to our present situation: we need to transition to using the abundance of sunlight and wind which the Lord sends upon the earth daily (and also to store up this energy so as to have it available to meet the varying energy uses to which we will need to put it).

So then, how do we do this? Where do we start? And what exactly do we need to do?

  • First, let us recognize to the full the seriousness of the situation we face. It is not a matter to be treated lightly or brushed aside. Recognize just what is involved here. In fact, it is the continuing habitability of our planet — which the Lord God has called us to care for — that is at stake. This global warming is not a minor problem we face, to which we can simply adapt ourselves. Earth’s global warming is progressively doing great harm to mankind, and to living creatures of every kind — and this is an evil which should not be permitted to continue.
  • Recognize then that this present attack upon God’s creation by global warming is an evil. When we are confronted by evil, the goal which we are to set for ourselves, and to strive for, is to follow the pattern of the command of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: to “Cease doing what is evil; Learn how to practise what is right” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Our response to what is evil is to be to replace it. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” While hating and opposing the evil, we are to aim to replace it instead with what is right, what is good (Romans 12:9, 21; so also Psalm 34:14; Psalm 37:27; Proverbs 4:27).
  • Recognize that this confrontation concerning global warming is in fact an issue of spiritual warfare. This is a serious battle “against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” such as Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-18. Here (verse 12) Paul identifies our true enemies, the source of the attack on the Lord’s Creation. Yes, these are the real enemies, the forces which are behind the obvious earthly foes (the vested interests in oil, coal and gas industries who are actively working in opposition against the transition to renewable energy). In order to wage this spiritual battle, we need (Paul says) to take “the full armour of God” — and we should take a firm stand against this evil (see verse 13).
  • Recognize also that through our actions we can make a difference to the outcome of this warfare. We need to make up our minds to take action. We should transition as speedily as possible out of our support for the way of life (fossil fuel use) that is the major cause of the global warming that endangers our planet’s future. There are some who are saying: “It is already too late for anything we do to make any difference — there is nothing that we can do to stop global warming.” But this is not the Christian way of thinking; for this is being conformed to the world’s pattern. There are two realistic responses we should make to this assertion: Firstly, addressing this evil of Creation-damaging global warming is the right thing for Christians to do: and it is never too late to start doing what is right. Never forget the choices that God allows us, so that the future is what we ourselves are building day by day. Moreover, secondly, if right now we attack and substantially reduce one of the major contributing causes of the problem of global warming (burning fossil fuels), we will definitely make a huge difference.
  • Recognize that what happens next lies in the hands of the human inhabitants of earth, concerning which the Lord has said “the earth he has given to mankind” (Psalm 115:16). To us he has entrusted the custodianship of the planet — and also to us he gives instructions as to what we are to do about it. When our thinking is astray, we need to change our thinking. “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We should renew our thinking to be in accord with his revealed will. Paul continues, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, perfect, and perfect will.” What is God’s will in this matter? Let us apply the Scripture to our lifestyle: Initially, “Cease doing evil” (Isaiah 1:16). Let us be in no two minds about this: to be basing our lifestyle on burning fossil fuels is not just unnecessary; this is a calculated and deliberate behaviour which is attacking the wellbeing of Planet Earth for the sake of increasing the present profits for those with vested interests in the status quo. This is morally wrong. It is evil. We must transition out of the burning of fossil fuels, because this is continuing to add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and is thus making the problem of global warming that much worse. The global warming this is causing, and the attendant damage to health resulting from the pollution produced, can be progressively halted. For there are fossil fuel alternatives available right now.

In our present world, this will involve working to make a smooth transition from fossil fuels to the use of renewable sources of energy in a manner that causes the least harm to our neighbours, to ourselves, and to other life forms on the planet.

But, whatever we do: will not the Lord himself act to intervene on behalf of his Creation when it is thus under attack? In very truth! Indeed he will. And the Lord’s response to the planet’s present problems will be (as so often can be seen in other situations in Scripture) to stir up his people to practise obedience to his instructions: that is, to align our thinking to his revealed will; to stop acting in ways which worsen the evil of the situation we face; and to learn how to do what is right.


  1. We need to renew our thinking, changing from conformity to the pattern of the world, to be aligned instead to his good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
  2. Our conforming to his will is going to involve our obedience to his commands: that we transition to a changed lifestyle that stops burning fossil fuel (because this is adding to the greenhouse gases that are worsening the problem of global warming). We must simply stop doing what makes this evil situation progressively worse. The Lord’s command is: “Cease to do evil” (Isaiah 1:16).
  3. Next, we are instructed to “Learn how to practise what is right”. In the circumstances of our planetary life, this is clearly going to require our changing to wide use of the alternative energy available from sun and wind power, plus its storage for use when “the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow” (Isaiah 1:17). It would be sinful, when we see the good we should do, for us to fail to do it (James 4:17).
  4. A practical idea for consideration: it is now possible to transition from society’s use of polluting Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles (producing greenhouse gases) into Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) of every kind which are safer, more economical and more reliable, and which don’t add to our problem with global warming. And don’t cause health problems for our neighbours. Or ourselves.

I strongly believe that great damage is currently being done to God’s Creation by global warming, and that this issue matters, because we have been charged with taking care of the Earth.
It will help counter this present ongoing attack upon the continuing liveability of Planet Earth if we were to transition as quickly as we can to the use of sustainable renewable resources. In particular it would make a significant difference to this problem if we were to adopt widely the use of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) in place of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles, To do this would require a substantial reorientation in all our thinking — for Battery Electric Vehicles at the moment make up less than 1% of motor vehicles on the roads of most countries.

Yet we are not alone. The importance of this transition to the use of BEVs, in place of ICE vehicles, is being widely recognized, and is already beginning in quite a number of countries around the world — but because of the seriousness of the ongoing damage being done to Planet Earth we really need to speed up this transition. Indeed, it is urgent that we do this. But this transition can be made. Let us recognize: earth would be a much more habitable home for humans, and also for other life forms, if we were to leave the fossil fuels in the ground. Let us adopt this as our goal. For it will make a huge difference to our future.

It is a significant step forward whenever people transition from an ICE to a BEV. Being aware of this urgency, and in line with this, I myself have changed from ICE cars to owning and driving an excellent BEV). See below.

In Christ’s service 
Ward Powers
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P.S. My new car is a Tesla BEV. I have compiled here the facts which led me to select this vehicle to buy.

Rev Dr. B. Ward Powers

The Tesla is a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) which does not burn fossil fuel or produce pollution.

You can top it up overnight by plugging it into your household power (very economic fuel) - OR
you can use my Referral Code (see other side) to buy your Tesla and receive free Supercharging for it.

It travels more than 350 kms on a single charge, and it has Tesla Superchargers all around Australia.
It can charge to 80% capacity (recommended charge) in 20 mins when you need a topup on a long trip.

Why not be finished with the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car – which produces deadly pollution.

The Tesla has many fewer moving parts than an ICE car, and so it needs a great deal less servicing.
It costs a bit more than an ICE car to buy, but only costs a third as much to run and for maintenance.
Because of its battery, it has a low centre of gravity, and is a joy to drive — very smooth and stable.
Electric vehicle batteries are recyclable after their use — they are not hazardous to the environment.
A Tesla gives outstanding performance; it is quiet, and reliable: and additionally, it has autopilot. This is a driver-assist program in a Tesla which can handle much (not all) of the workload of safe driving.
Official crash tests by Road Safety authorities in America and Europe call it the world’s safest vehicle.

The world’s countries are moving now towards recognizing that BEVs are the transport of the future.

The facts of science are undeniably clear: God’s Creation is under violent attack at present by Global Warming. This is being caused by greenhouse gas emissions into Earth’s atmosphere.from burning fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas). Mainly in two primary ways:(a) by our power stations, to produce energy (even though we could switch over now to using more economical and reliable renewable energy); and (b) produced by ICE vehicles (whereas we could transition now to using Battery Electric Vehicles that have no emissions). I feel very strongly concerned about obeying the biblical teaching that I am to care about the wellbeing of God’s Creation. But there is little that I personally can do to be involved in this situation. But in this matter also I want to be an obedient servant of the Lord. And there IS one thing: I can be part of this culture change. Therefore I have joined the “change from ICE to BEV” movement already happening in Australia, Europe, Asia, the Americas, and around the world.

And to those who think maybe that this transition is not possible, I give this invitation: To the extent to which it is practical (I live in Sydney Australia), I offer to take those who are interested for a drive in my Tesla so they can experience it for themselves. Contact me and we’ll check out the possibilities. “Come, experience my Tesla. Check it out for yourself.” I want to show people a genuine alternative to driving an ICE vehicle — and Tesla accepts trade-ins. The Tesla is the ideal vehicle for Australians (or anyone else) to drive. For personal use. For Parish use. Or business. By every objective measurement, Tesla is the leader of the change into the future which awaits us: no exhaust smell, because no tailpipe, so zero emissions; long range on a single charge, speedy recharging, economical to run — and available now.

If you are ready to move into the future today, come join me: order your Tesla Model 3 BEV now. Use my Referral Order code,, and then we both receive free Supercharging.

Tesla is producing its Model 3 at the rate of thousands every day, and all are pre-sold as built. New ship-loads are now on the seas, on their way here. There is a delivery delay, though, of a few months.

Use my Referral Order code, and then we both receive free Supercharging. 

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Looking After the Finances

 1 Cor 16:2

What Paul says about the particular situation he was discussing - the collection for the saints in Jerusalem - contains some very wise and practical directions which provide a sound general guide from the apostle for financial practice in stewardship in the church for our day as well as his.

The principles he sets out are:

(a) “On the first day”: This reference (with the others which we find in the New Testament) indicates that the Christians made a practice of meeting together on the first day of every week (i.e., on the Sunday). Their giving is thus to be systematic, not sporadic, and it is tied in with the regular Christian worship, which would provide an ongoing reminder and motivation and stimulus for such systematic giving.

(b) “Of every week”: Their giving is not only to be systematic but regular, and not occasional, or a matter of whim or impulse. The carrying out of this instruction will require planning and preparation, and will mean the incorporation of this Christian stewardship within the framework of a household’s regular outgoings.

(c) “Each of you is to put something aside”: Everyone is to be committed to this program of giving. It is not just for those who feel like it, or who are richer than the rest, or who believe themselves called to be liberal, as if there are others who may consider themselves excused from participation. Whether the sum of money set aside is small or large, each of them is to be involved in this project. The responsibility of giving aid to the saints was an obligation which every one of the brothers in the churches is to acknowledge and accept. So also today the same principle applies: all the people of God have a responsibility of Christian stewardship and as stewards should set an amount aside on a systematic and regular basis.

(d) “As he may prosper”: Their giving is to be proportional to their means. The principle of proportional giving goes back into the Old Testament, where people gave a tenth of their increase (the tithe) to God. This principle of tithing is confirmed in the New Testament. That Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek is mentioned in Hebrews (7:2) in a context that indicates that this is viewed favorably. Their tithing is the only thing for which Jesus ever commended the Pharisees: “These you ought to have done”, Jesus tells them, “without neglecting the other, weightier, matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23, cf. ESV and others). The Jews in the church would recognize the tithe as their minimum obligation in giving to God’s service under the Old Cov­enant, after which one could make an offering (Malachi 3:8), and they would not think that under the New Covenant they could please God by doing less as stewards of what he had given them. The New Testament exhortations to generosity only make sense if seen as exhorting Christians to do more than they would have done as the people of God under the Old Covenant. Proportional giving exemplifies in the material sphere the general principle that “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

(e) “So that there will be no collecting when I come”: Paul’s instructions will ensure that the matter is handled in the best possible way, so that the congregation’s contributions will all be built up and put aside pending Paul’s coming, rather than there being need for a quick unplanned and unprepared-for collection when he arrives. Translated into the circumstances of stewardship for today, this would indicate a putting aside on a regular basis of a suitable proportion of our income so that we have our tithe, our “Christian stewardship reserve”, available to expend in whatever way in Christ’s service the Spirit brings to our notice. Some part will indeed go on a weekly basis for the support of ministry in our usual congregation, and some in regular support of evangelism, outreach, and relief of need and missionary work around the world, and some will remain “set aside” against the “arrival” of some Christian need to which we can then apply what we have saved up for this purpose.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from

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The Practical Problem of Peer Pressure

1 Corinthians 15:32,33

For many people, the only significant factor that acts as a brake upon their totally giving way to their lower nature is their concern about what others may think of them. If then they find their peers accepting low standards of behavior and engaging in activities of a very dubious nature, the pressure upon a person’s morals and character is almost irresistible. And then the attitude a person will adopt - and the rationale they may well give subsequently for their behavior - is likely to be, “But everybody is doing it.” As Paul puts it so succinctly here, “Bad company ruins good morals.”

We see this insidious pressure, both subtle and open, all around us today. Peer pressure to conform to the world in our language, our goals, our behavior. If there is no life but this present one, why shouldn’t we?

But we will act differently if we believe that this earthly life is but a preparation for the life that is to come, and moreover that the choices we make in this life are decisive for the outcome in the next, seeing that (as Hebrews 9:27 puts it), “it is ap­poin­ted for man to die once, and after that comes judgement”, for “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Ro­m­ans 14:12). Thus when we live as those who will have to give an account to God, and say a firm “no” to ubiquitous peer pre­s­­s­ure, we are demonstrating in our lives our confidence in the Lord, and his gospel, and the reality of life beyond this one.

Indeed, as Paul says, if the dead are not raised, why not simply indulge ourselves before we die? But if we believe in the resurrection then we will turn away from a life of indul­gence and sin (v.34), we will not let peer pressure influence us, and instead we will live our lives as “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (v.58).


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What Was Going On At Corinth?

When this chapter is examined, it will be found that there are two places (verses 2, and 14-16) which could be under­stood to refer to the speaker in tongues using a non-human language, but neither of these places demands such an interpretation to explain them (both places could refer to the speaker speaking in a human language that he himself did not happen to understand, and indeed in both places Paul could be referring to the speaker using a human language which he himself did in fact understand - see my comments on these verses).

Some exegetes consider that verses 4 and 28 also indicate the use of non-human language (or at least a language not under­stood by the speaker), but this idea is being read into the text, not taken from it - there is absolutely nothing in the wording of those verses to suggest that a human language is not meant.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence in the passage for taking “tongues” to mean, as in Acts, human languages.

Verses 10-11 speak of the “all sorts of languages in the world”, and add that “none of them is without meaning” - which in context means “meaning to human beings”; and “if I do not know what that meaning is, then I and the speaker are foreigners to each other” (the Greek word “foreigner” here, βαρβαρος barbaros, specifically means a person speaking a foreign language). Paul’s next words, “So with yourselves” indicate that his comment is describing what is happening at Corinth, and thus is a comment about the nature of tongues.

V.21 quotes from “the Law” (Deuteronomy 28:47-51 and, in particular, Isaiah 28:11-12) which refers to “men of strange tongues”, and this prophecy from the Old Testament is immediately used (v.22) to explain the purpose of tongues in the church of Paul’s day. As the strange tongues then were a sign to the unbelieving Israelites of God’s judgement, so also now (i.e., in Paul’s day) tongues are a sign for unbelievers. But “tongues” in v.21 refers to the foreign language spoken by the Assyrian invaders! There is no basis upon which “tongues” in Paul’s consequence clause, “Tongues, then” (v.22), can be given a different meaning: it similarly is referring to human languages - foreign, but human.

Now that we have looked at all that Paul is saying about speaking in tongues (he doesn’t mention it again in any of his other Epistles), what are we to make of it? In particular, exactly what was going on at Corinth?

The core of the situation at Corinth is that there are some there who have the gift of being able to speak a foreign language that they never learnt. This is a perpetual miracle - and it can be called forth on de­­mand. Probably these people were some of the initial one hun­­dred and twenty (Acts 1:15) who were given this gift on the day of Pen­­tecost (Acts 2:1) - and like other grace-gifts, when once given they still have it.

Perhaps others also have subsequently been given this same gift: I do not see any evidence about this one way or the other.

We can imagine that these people are being encouraged by others in the church to use this gift - not for any useful purpose, but just to demonstrate that they have it. It brings them pres­­tige. It is a miracle on tap, they are happy to oblige. This is an example of what we might call the “wow!” factor at work.
But I believe the evidence indicates that there is another group at Corinth also: people who can speak a foreign language anyway (either because they learnt it in the ordinary way or because it is their mother tongue). They are also using this “ability” - as far as others are concerned, it all sounds the same! And they are thus able to gain the same prestige and recognition in the Corin­thian church as the first group.

Griffiths 57ff. says about this:
"How are we to understand this word γλωσσα [glōssa]? Does it mean that when we speak in ‘tongues’, we speak to God in prayer? That is certainly a possible understanding of it. Or could it mean [rather] that if you speak in your “mother-tongue”, which may be incomprehensible to the rest of the congregation, that you are certainly understood by God, who understands all languages, but you only edify yourself because nobody else understands what you are saying? ... After all, if on the day of Pentecost Jerusalem was full of people speaking many languages, then it is not too far-fetched to expect that in a large cosmopolitan seaport like Corinth, you would not infrequently have overseas visitors: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia, Egypt, districts of Libya around Cyrene, Cretans and Arabians and visitors from Rome. In such a multi-lingual port, there must have been many occasions when someone wanted to speak in their own language, which would be incomprehensible to the predominantly Greek-speaking congregation. ... Should people be allowed to contribute in unfamiliar languages? Everything Paul says is explicable in terms of regulating this problem."
So, it is highly probable that there were these first two groups in the congregation. But Paul seems surprised by the number of tongues-speakers at Corinth, and I think he suspects there is a third group: those who are just faking it, to receive the same elite status held by these others. At any rate, there are parts of Paul’s teaching that seem to me to be deliberately wide enough to cover all three such groups, as if Paul himself is not totally sure what is going on at Corinth, and he is making certain he covers all possibilities.

If my suspicions are correct, there is a basic core at Corinth of what we could call “genuine” tongues-speakers, with a miraculous gift of speaking an unlearned foreign language, plus some others who have managed to join this elite group. But whatever the situation at Corinth, Paul can clearly see its bad effects, and his teaching is directed at bringing it under control without overtly denying the existence and genuineness of miraculous tongues-speaking as a grace gift from God.

Does this gift of tongues exist today?

The miraculous element - the ability to speak, unlearned, a foreign language? No: that is said by Paul (14:22) to be a sign gift, and it did not continue beyond the apostolic era.

But enhanced language ability? Most definitely “yes”.

This was Calvin’s understanding. In his Commentary on 1 Cor­in­thians [286] he describes “the gift of tongues” as “somebody speaking in a foreign language”, for “tongue” “means a foreign language”. Similarly he says [263],
"Interpreters translated the foreign languages into the native speech. They did not at that time acquire these gifts by hard work or studying; but they were theirs by a wonderful revelation of the Spirit."
Calvin holds that the miraculous ability of speaking and interpreting a foreign language is not ours today, but God gives to the Church those people who will study languages using natural ability: “knowledge of languages” continues in the Church to “serve the needs of this life” [280], but is now acquired through study. Then he adds [287],
God has bestowed no gift on His Church without there being some purpose for it; and tongues were of some use at that time. ... In our own day when there is a crying need for the knowledge of tongues, and when, at our stage in history, God in His wonderful kindness has rescued them from darkness and brought them to light, there are great theologians who, faced with that situation, are loud and violent in their protests against them. Since there can be no doubt that the Holy Spirit has bestowed undying honour on tongues in this verse [14:5], it is easy to deduce what sort of spirit moves those critics who make strong attacks against the study of languages with as much insulting language as they can muster.
To sum up then: I find that a consideration of the text leads to these conclusions:

(a) That “speaking in tongues” always has in the New Testament the meaning that it has in Acts 2, that is, speaking in a human language;

(b) that the “speaking in tongues” at Pentecost was the miraculous granting of ability to speak in a human language which one had not learnt;

(c) that this miraculous ability was used in the preaching of the gospel in those first years of the early church, and that this was a sign to unbelievers;

(d) that foreign-language-speaking at Corinth had become a distortion of the Pentecost gift, both in purpose and execution. The speaker may have been given the ability to speak the foreign language by miraculous divine gift, or by heightened natural ability - or in fact he may have been speaking a language he had learned in the ordinary way: or he may have been pretending to have this miraculous language-speaking ability. Quite possibly all three of these things were happening in the “speaking in tongues” at Corinth; and three similar equivalents apply in relation to “interpretation”.

(e) that this miraculous granting of the gift ceased in the early church by the time the writing of the New Testament was complete;

(f) that such miraculous ability to speak in a language which one has not learnt is not being granted to Christians today, but that the gift of tongues (without the miraculous element) is to have a facility in learning to communicate the gospel in a foreign language, and the gift of interpretation/trans­lation is the ability to translate the message of the gospel from one language into another. Both of these are skills in which by God’s choice some people are better equipped than others; and both of them God gives to his church today.

We may well say that so-and-so has a gift for languages, and we speak more truly than we realize. For we refer to a ­natural flair for learning another language, and this is a God-given ability, just as another person will have a flair for music, or mathematics, or teaching, or administration.

Such a gift is of immense value to a person called to be a foreign missionary. Michael Griffiths 58f., a world missionary leader, explains:
"Nowadays, before accepting somebody as a missionary, we give them a Modern Language Aptitude Test to get a rough idea of whether they have any natural aptitude for languages. ... No missionary discussion today can overlook the fact that an essential component in a missionary’s usefulness is going to be his ability to speak one or more languages. For the first term of missionary service, the time involved in learning a language and the restrictions of inadequate language will be a major factor. In several countries people really need to learn two new languages! Any missionary society constantly wrestles with this problem of communication. ... People who do not speak a language are always impressed by another’s apparent fluency, and readily call it a ‘gift for language’. Anybody who regularly has to preach in a recently-acquired language recognises how much he needs the grace gift from the Holy Spirit to speak effectively. It is an essential gift for taking the gospel to all nations!"
Indeed, if one has such a gift, one may recognize it as equip­ping you for missionary service. Oh that such people should test out and recognize their calling and equipping of God to take up the challenge of missionary service, whether fulltime or, like Paul for much of his ministry, as “tentmakers”! The need for workers in the fields white for harvest is immense, and a facility for languages is a great asset in preparing for this ministry, and responding to this call.
Similarly, the gift of interpretation for today means the ability to turn what is said in one language into its meaningful and accurate equivalent in another. This is more than just being able to speak both languages - it involves being able to recognize the equivalent of the one in the other. Michael Griffiths’s comment (65) about this is:
"Let us remember again that the understanding of the word as “trans­­­­lation” still involves a spiritual gift. Those of us who listen fre­­­quently to translated messages, or who have to be interpreted our­­­selves, are very clear that a gifted interpreter manifests the unction of the Spirit just as much or even more than the speaker whom he interprets. There can be no doubt that the plain meaning “in­ter­­­­preter” (of one known language into another) requires the grace of God to do it effectively to the blessing of the congregation."
Thus in today’s world the gifts of “tongues” and “interpretation” can be seen as natural abilities which God gives to one person or another. Michael Griffiths 68 describes them as “natural aptitudes which would subsequently become enriched by spiritual gifts”.
Griffiths goes on:
"While we must agree that we cannot succeed in spiritual work merely by relying upon natural aptitudes, the sovereign God may well give to his servants from their mother’s womb natural abilities which, when surrendered, sanctified and transfigured by spiritual blessings, can be effectively used to God’s glory."
This assessment of “tongues” and “interpretation” covers all the issues which arise in the understanding of 1 Corinthians 12 to 14, but it leaves unresolved one remaining major issue: what then is one to make of modern-day “speaking in tongues”?
I discuss this below, in Excursus Four, “Tongues Speaking Today: A Comment”.

For those of you who would like to look into this further, I recommend the very warm and helpful approach to answering this significant question found in J I Packer’s book Keep in Step With the Spirit.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from

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Worship Then and Now

Johnson takes 1 Cor 14:26-33 as a total picture of worship in the congregation at Corinth. He says,
"These verses (vv.26-33) give a rare picture of a Christian church service in these early years (c.54-55). We find no leaders, no reading of the Law, no set order, and no single sermon (different from Jewish synagogue worship). Instead we find a democratically functioning group, with one offering a Christian song (psalmos, “psalm,” “hymn,” “Christian song”), then another giving a word of instruction, another bringing a revelation (cf. v.6), still another speaking in a tongue and then giving an interpretation (or another giving an interpretation, v.26)."
The presumption behind this understanding of these verses 26-33 is that whatever isn’t expressly mentioned didn’t happen. That is one way of interpreting the evidence, I suppose. There is another. This is to view this passage as addressing issues in need of correction or attention or clarification, and not mentioning those things that were “standard” or “normal” or “correct”. For example, there is no mention at this point of celebrating the Lord’s Supper - there is lengthy discussion of this a few chapters earlier, of course (11:17-34E). And there is no specific mention in 14:26-33 of prayer or Scripture reading being included in the worship. Yet we would expect its inclusion - and justifiably so. A picture of a time of worship in Corinth (and other churches) needs to be built up on the basis of all the evidence available to us.

Firstly, Christian worship was initially patterned on the Jewish synagogue worship. And why not? Christians held the same faith in the same God - but with the conviction that the promised Messiah had come. James the president or bishop of the early church in Jerusalem even refers to the church assembly by the term “synagogue” (James 2:2) - a reference that reveals the concept of the same worship pattern. We may legitimately take it, then, that there would indeed be prayer and the reading of the Scriptures in Christian as in Jewish worship (2 Corinthians 3:15), doubtless plus other features that were an accepted part of the Jewish scene.

For example, that the men and the women sat separately. One reason why such a feature as this is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament is that, if it were, this could well then have been taken as a Holy Spirit-given example for us to follow and so could have become normative for Christian worship, though such a thing was not at all the divine intention.

The conduct of Jewish worship was in the hands of “rulers of the synagogue”, elders. There is no suggestion in the New Testament that Christian worship would be different or that Paul would choose to diverge from the synagogue in such matters. To the contrary: Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches they founded (Acts 14:23), and Paul addressed the elders of the churches in his ministry (Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1), and wrote of the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:5). He spoke of the elders who ruled and who taught in the congregation (1 Timothy 5:17). Peter similarly addresses elders (e.g. 1 Peter 5:1). Paul’s concern very much included that there be orderliness and decorum in the congregation, so that the people of God could be edified in their gathering without hindrance or distraction: let all things be done decently and in order (14:33a, 40).

It is against this background then that we are to interpret 14:26-33. The singing and the speaking (plus everything else not specifically mentioned here) must all be conducive to edification.

Johnson 268 assumes that opportunity will be given at each Lord’s Day gathering for all the prophets to speak (v.31):
"A series of two or three prophets spoke, then there was discussion, followed by another series of two or three prophets and then discussion, until all the prophets had spoken."
The “discussion” he envisages as being when “the congregation as a whole sifts the content of the speech” (268).

There is absolutely no reason from the text for taking “you can all prophesy one by one” to mean, “at the one gathering of the congregation, on the one occasion”. Much better to take it sequentially over whatever may be an appropriate period of time, so that the prophets could all share whatever had been revealed to them by the Lord (v.30).

I doubt that a prophet was a prophet for all occasions. On all topics. It is more likely that the Spirit specially leads one person to understand in depth one particular issue or area of truth, and others similarly in different areas. Then from the variety and multiplicity of their respective contributions the whole counsel of God will emerge. Just as now each different book of Scripture makes its contribution to our total understanding. I take it that when Paul says “you can all prophesy” he is not meaning “so that everybody is able to have their say, lest somebody gets offended by being left out”; but in order that all prophets who have received something from the Lord can share it.

The lesson and example of this for our worship services today is that we should also give time and opportunity for prayer and praise, for singing and Scripture-reading, and for proclamation of the message of the teaching of the Lord from the Word of God. Seeing that God’s channel of communication prior to the availability of the New Testament canon in the churches was by revelation to (apostles and) prophets, there is a sense in which the prophets at that time sharing a message revealed by the Lord was equivalent to our reading from the New Testament epistles today.
Perhaps, though, the idea of several speakers (tongues speakers - plus interpreters - plus two or three prophets) all contributing on the one occasion to the teaching and edification of the congregation is something which may give us pause for reflection and thought in the light of our usual present-day practice of having one speaker bringing one sermon during a worship service. Alternatively, we may feel that this aspect of a Corin­thian gathering for worship was primarily intended for the particular circumstances of those times, and is not intended to be a pattern for today.

One thing is absolutely clear, though, and should also be our goal and purpose in our worship today: that there was an important place in the gathering of the congregation given to the teaching and instruction of the people in the truths of God (i.e. what to believe and how to behave). And in this the practice in the church at Corinth (and as Paul would say, in all the churches - 7:17; 11:16; 14:33) was consistent with what was done in the early church from its beginning (Acts 2:42) when they were all so excited to see that God has broken through into history in a new and special way.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from

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Tourist or Team Player?

How are we to view all that Paul has been saying in 1 Cor 12?

The church is not a tour bus, with one driver plus a tour guide, who comments on the scenery and the sights as the tour members travel along.

Rather, the church is a symphony orchestra, with a conductor and a manager and possibly a soloist singer or performer - but every member has an instrument to play and a job to do. You don’t have members of the orchestra who sit and do nothing, and just watch and listen while the others play their instruments. Some instruments in an orchestra are numerous, with many players - like the wind section and the strings; for others there are only one or two - like the percussion or the harp. Some instruments are playing continuously or almost all the time; while other instruments are only involved occasionally in playing. But every orchestra member has a task - there is some skill or another which they have - and when the music requires it, they are there to ­perform.

That’s the analogy that appeals to me. But those of you who are into football might relate more to the picture of a team of football players in a match, where every player on the field is there because he has a role to fulfill and a skill to use.

Certainly we can all relate to Paul’s picture of the members of the church, the body of Christ, being like parts of the human body: each part has an indispensable role to play in the optimum functioning of the entire body. And not only an indispensable role but a unique role - one part does not attempt to take over the proper role of another part. And all the parts are needed.

In some areas of the church today we have certainly got this mixed up. In numerous places some “parts of the body” - with certain God-given endowments, functions, and roles - are seeking to (or at least wanting to) take over other roles, which need different skills and gifts.

Or, alternatively, like tourists on the tour bus, they are ­content to be just going along for the ride, enjoying the sights.

Johnson 220, comparing the pattern of the involvement of all Christians in the life and worship of the church as Paul sets it out here with what is often found today, says, "greater emphasis on the multiplicity and diversity of the Spirit’s ministry is needed in many churches, where the congregation’s role has been severely reduced to being spectators to the 'dance of the clergy'."
What are to be our responses to all these truths? We are to have a threefold response:

Firstly, we need to identify, and train and develop, and use, our own gifts for the benefit of all, as God intended.

Secondly, we have a responsibility, as a church, to help others do the same. So we need to mentor people to find their gifts, and then ensure that, as a church, we provide them with training and practice, and opportunities to use their gifts.

And then, thirdly, we need to recognize the “more excellent way”. The Corinthians were vainly chasing after what they considered to be “higher” or “better” or “greater” gifts. “No,” says Paul. “I will show you something far better and far more important than that!” And he writes for them - and us! - about a way of living, a way of life: chapter 13, “The Way of Love”. It is as if he is saying here, “Pause and ponder: Fruit is more important than gifts - any gift. And fruit is something for all Christians to cultivate.”

Paul now interrupts his discussion of “gifts and the Cor­inthians” to explain the Way of Love. But really it is not an interruption of his theme: it is a clarification of it. For Paul is not disparaging gifts in these chapters - to the contrary, he has been emphasizing how vital, how indispensable they are. And he is not setting up here some kind of conflict between gifts and love and saying, “Choose love.”
He is saying that love is for every Christian to have and show, whereas gifts are each only for particular individuals. But far more than this: he is showing that love is the sphere within which a gift - any gift, every gift - is to be exercised.

Whichever view we adopt concerning 12:31a - whether we accept it as an imperative, “But seek for the greater gifts” or take it as an indicative, “But you are seeking for the greater gifts” - it is concerned with the seeking of gifts. And so Paul’s response now to this situation is, “And I will show you a still better way - a way more surpassing, more outstanding, more superior than any gift in itself can ever be, a way which far surpasses all others.” He then speaks to them of the way of love, and in the first stanza (13:1-3) of what some have called a poem to love he emphasizes that any gift and every gift without love is pointless and useless and valueless. This is ­followed, in his second stanza (13:4-7), by the setting forth of the intrinsic excellence of love, and then by a final stanza demon­strating the eternal value of love (13:8-13E).

The chapter personifies love, giving it a life and dimension of its own. In fact we can see how what Paul writes is fulfilled in Christ, so that it can be said of him: “Christ is patient and kind; Christ is not jealous or boastful”, and so on throughout. Or perhaps, even better, we can see how it is really Christ’s love which fulfils all that Paul says here.

But more than this: chapter 13 is an unconscious self-portrait. When in his introduction in 12:31 Paul says that he is going to show the Corinthians the most excellent way, his choice of verb is interesting. Significant. He uses δεικνυμι (deiknumi). Present tense, “I show”; or alternatively, “I exhibit or demonstrate”. This is usually taken to mean that he “will tell” them of the “more excellent way”, and then he does so in the chapter which now follows.

And I do not doubt that this is so. But he does not use here the future “will tell” - he uses δεικνυμι (deiknumi). He is saying, “I am showing you the way.” And I would say that whether he had this point ­consciously in mind or not, he did indeed show them, and present to them, and exhibit, this love in his own life and dealings with the Corinthians: for he exemplified this love.

That is, I take it that in describing how love behaves he is speaking out of his own understanding and experience. Because in this, as he says in 11:1, “I follow Christ.”

So that when we are (as Paul says in 14:1 that we are) to pursue after love, it is to love like Christ himself that we are to seek. This love, God’s own love, is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us (Romans 5:5).

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from

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