1 Corinthians 4:15–21
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
We begin a series of messages this morning that will probably take us all the way to the middle of April. It’s called “Compassion, Power, and the Kingdom of God: Are Signs and Wonders for Today?” The series is unusual in at least two ways.
First, it is directly related to remarkable things that are happening in the world today and in our own experience; our aim will be to search the Scriptures concerning the rising worldwide tide of activity in gifts of healing, the gifts of prophecy, signs and wonders, personal spiritual warfare, territorial spiritual warfare, and power evangelism. Are these things of God? Are they biblical? Has God begun to draw us into the warfare in a way that demands greater discernment and zeal for spiritual power?
The other thing that makes the series unusual is that it will be coordinated with the Plenary Session of the BITC on Wednesday evenings. Wednesdays will take us deeper and give a chance for discussion and application. This series has been a kind of staff decision. We have been studying and discussing these things for some time. Tom Steller and I will team teach the course.
Today’s message is an introduction to the series as a whole. What I want to do is show how the questions have been raised in our experience and then close with just a brief look at the text and how the New Testament itself raises the issues we will be looking at.
What Prompts This Series?
First, then, what is happening in the world that prompts this series?
A New Focus on Unreached Peoples
The first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization took place in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Until now the most remarkable upshot of that congress was the new focus of mission agencies on unreached peoples. Ralph Winter sounded a startling cry that about 90% of the missionaries of the world were working with already reached peoples, while only 10% were working with people groups with no church at all. He pointed out that the completion of the Great Commission should not be understood as reaching all the individuals in the world, but all the peoples of the world. He showed that there are (today) some 12,000 of these unreached groups, and that this should be top priority for the mission agencies of the world. This new understanding of the missionary task has gripped almost all evangelical mission agencies and denominations today.
The Last Two Sentences of the Lausanne Covenant
I say this has been the most remarkable upshot of Lausanne until now. But now something else is happening in the world, especially in missions and evangelism, that may owe its strength to Lausanne and may prove just as significant as the concept of unreached peoples. Peter Wagner, of the Fuller School of World Mission, pointed this out to those of us who were at the second Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Manila last July.
He said that history may show that the most significant influence of Lausanne I was tucked away in two sentences of Article 14 of the Lausanne Covenant—the document that John Stott and Francis Schaeffer helped put together and which Billy Graham and thousands of others signed. Article 14 is entitled “The Power of the Holy Spirit.” The last two sentences go like this:
We therefore call upon all Christians to pray for such a visitation of the sovereign Spirit of God that all his fruit may appear in all his people and that all his gifts may enrich the body of Christ. Only then will the whole church become a fit instrument in his hands, that the whole earth may hear his voice.
Many Christians today believe that some of the spiritual gifts that were manifest in the New Testament have no place in the church or in missions today—like gifts of healing and miracles and prophecy. But that was not the position of the Lausanne Covenant. The Covenant calls all Christians to pray that all the gifts of the Spirit may enrich the body of Christ. And it specifically connects this prayer with the success of world missions. “Only then will the whole church become a fit instrument in his hands, that the whole earth may hear his voice.”
A Rapidly Growing Movement
Peter Wagner pointed out that this last sentence may prove prophetic because it seems that most of the remarkable breakthroughs in world missions and in church growth around the world today are happening among those groups that pray the way Lausanne urges us to pray, namely, for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit—groups that deal forthrightly in the supernatural realm and take evil spirits and power encounters seriously.
This movement can hardly be labeled anymore. It’s not merely Pentecostal; it’s not merely charismatic; it’s no one denomination or group of denominations; it is theologically diverse and includes Wesleyans and Calvinists. It is a worldwide movement with no organization, but a common zeal to seek all the gifts and the power of God described in the early church. Whatever we think of it, this movement cannot be ignored. According to Wagner in 1945 there were 16 million; 1955—27 million; 1965—50 million; 1975—97 million; 1980—268 million; 1989—351 million. Thus about one in every five professing Christians in the world today is in this group.
Examples of What's Happening Around the World
Three weeks ago I was invited by Peter Wagner to a one day POST-LAUSANNE II CONSULTATION ON COSMIC-LEVEL SPIRITUAL WARFARE which is supposed to take place Monday, February 11, in Pasadena. Let me give you an example of the kind of thing that is happening today which we will be discussing.
Taking Seriously the Reality of Satan and Evil Spirits
More and more people today are taking seriously the tremendous reality of Satan and evil spirits in the work of evangelism and world missions. People are asking whether the demonic effect of Satan in blinding unbelievers1 calls for some kind of special power encounter. And the reference in Ephesians 6:12 to “principalities and powers and world rulers of this present darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” has raised the question whether there is a hierarchy of evil spirits with some assigned by Satan over whole territories with the responsibility to keep them darkened and blinded from the gospel.2 So increasingly efforts are being made to identify territorial spirits and combat them in a direct way by prayer and spiritual authority, to prepare an area for more effective evangelism.
For example, in the fall of 1984 a group of pastors and leaders for the San Nicolas/Rosario area of Argentina gathered to discuss and pray about spiritual warfare. The gathering was prompted by the realization that 109 towns within 100 miles of their training center had no Christian witness. They did some preliminary studies and discovered that the town of Arroyo Seco appeared to be the seat of satanic activity in the region.
Years before a well-known warlock (or wizard or sorcerer) by the name of Mr. Meregildo operated out of that town. He was so famous and his cures so dramatic that people would trek to Arroyo Seco from overseas for his services. Before he died, he evidently passed his powers on to 12 disciples. Three times a church was established in Arroyo Seco and three times it closed down in the face of severe spiritual opposition.
After several days of Bible study and prayer, the pastors and leaders came together in one accord and placed the entire area under spiritual authority. A few of them traveled to Arroyo Seco. Positioning themselves across the street from the headquarters of Mr. Meregildo’s followers they served an eviction notice on the forces of evil. They announced to them that they were defeated and that Jesus Christ would attract many to himself now that the church was united and pledged to proclaim him. Less than three years later 82 of those towns had evangelical churches in them. An unverified report indicates that as of today, all of them may have a church or a Christian witness.3 Unusual breakthroughs in world missions are increasingly being associated with spiritual warfare.
Another example of this movement and the kind of thing we will examine is what is called “power evangelism.” The term has been popularized by John Wimber, the pastor of a church called the Vineyard in Anaheim, California (that has grown from one congregation to 270+ congregations in the last 10 years). He has drawn attention to the fact that almost every instance of successful evangelism in the New Testament involves some demonstration of supernatural power alongside the preaching of the Word—a healing,4 an exorcism,5 a prophecy,6 a resurrection from the dead,7 speaking of foreign tongues.8
His point is that this part of New Testament evangelism is missing in the western church for no good biblical reason and that this accounts for some of our weakness and ineffectiveness. These confirming miracles (called “signs and wonders”) have a valuable function, Wimber says, namely, not to replace the verbal gospel but to win a more open hearing for it and confirm it. That’s the pattern in Acts 14:3, “So [Paul and Barnabas] remained for a long time [at Iconium], speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” The “signs and wonders” were the Lord’s direct miraculous witness to his Word.
The Use of the Gift of Prophecy
Another example of the kind of thing we will be talking about is the increasing use of the gift of prophecy. Wayne Grudem is a good friend of mine. I taught with him at Bethel for several years before he became a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and before I came to Bethlehem. Wayne, an ordained Baptist minister, grew up in the BGC, has the highest view of the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture of anyone I know, and is a thoroughgoing Calvinist. But he has also written a very influential book on The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Crossway Books, 1988).
His position is that prophecy in the New Testament is not the same as the infallible prophecies of the Old Testament prophets or the words of the apostles. The prophecy practiced by the New Testament church was simply “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” The telling is not infallible, but, as 1 Thessalonians 5:20–21 says, is to be tested: “Do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” The purpose is not mainly to give details about the future but, as 1 Corinthians 14:3 says, to “speak to people for their upbuilding, encouragement and consolation.” J.I. Packer calls the book “careful, thorough and . . . convincing.” We have to come to terms with this if we are to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and test all things by the Scriptures and be obedient to the Scriptures.
These then are some of the ways that our contemporary experience is raising for us the cluster of issues which we are summing up with the phrase, “Compassion, Power, and the Kingdom of God.” Now we turn briefly to our biblical text to see how Scripture itself poses these questions.
Two Questions Raised by 1 Corinthians 4:20
Paul had some very puffed up opponents at Corinth. But he was confident that there was no kingdom power in their puff. So he says in 1 Corinthians 4:20, “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” This raises two questions we will need to consider.
1. The Nature of the Kingdom of God
First, what is the nature of the kingdom of God? Here it seems to be a present demonstration of power. But two chapters later in 1 Corinthians 6:9 it seems like a future realm: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Is it future or is it present? Is it a power to be exerted in the world by Christians or is it a realm that we will one day enter in the age to come? Is it both? How do these fit together? And how does this kingdom relate today to what Jesus calls the kingdom of Satan (Matthew 12:26)?
2. The Power Exerted by the Kingdom Today
Second, what is this “power” that the kingdom exerts now in the church? Paul said the same thing back in 1 Corinthians 2:4–5, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” What is this power? Is it the power of 1 Corinthians 5:4–5 that the people use to deliver a member to Satan for the destruction of the flesh? Is it the power of Romans 15:19, “the power of signs and wonders”? Is it the power of Colossians 1:11, the power “for all endurance and patience with joy”? And is this kingdom and this power for us today?
The Goal of Love
Finally, notice that Paul wants to come with this power in love and a spirit of gentleness. Verse 21: “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” I don’t think he means that the rod of rebuke and discipline would be unloving. He simply means, Shall I come with disciplinary love or gentle affirming love?
But the important point for us is simply the connection between love, power, and the kingdom of God. The power of the kingdom is going to issue in love. This is what we want to stress in this series: love is our aim. Our interest in these things is very practical: How shall we love unbelievers to Christ with greatest effectiveness in the 1990s? How shall we love our way into the unreached peoples with most effectiveness in the 1990s? How shall we most effectively love demonized, addicted, enslaved, broken people to the freedom of Christ in the 1990s? How can love most effectively break the power of entrenched institutional evil, like abortion in the 1990s?
Love and compassion are the summation of all practical Christian living. When you love, you “fulfill the whole law” (Romans 13:10). “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). “Faith working through love” is the only thing that avails with God (Galatians 5:6). “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love is the test of whether spiritual gifts and power amount to anything: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–2).
Our goal is to learn how to love with the greatest power and effect that the kingdom of God will grant in this evil age. May the Lord give us a deep biblical faithfulness as we search the Scriptures together.
1 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” Matthew 13:19 shows the Satanic work against the gospel: “When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.” Acts 13:7–10 shows how Paul struck back with spiritual power when Elymas the magician tried to turn the Proconsul from the faith during Paul's preaching.
2 An example of this is often found in Daniel 10. Daniel begins to pray and prays for three weeks. An angel is dispatched to help him but does not arrive for three weeks. He explains his delay like this: “Fear not , Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to befall your people” (verses 12–14). This “prince of the kingdom of Persia” is taken to be some kind of demonic power assigned some special evil responsibility over Persia.
3 Account taken from report of the Spiritual Warfare Track Workshop at Lausanne II, by Edgardo Silvoso in a paper entitled “Spiritual Warfare in Argentina and the ‘Plan Resistencia.’” Harvest Evangelism, Inc. P.O. Box 9039, San Jose, CA 95157.
4 Acts 9:34–35, “And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”
5 For example, Acts 8:6–7, “And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice.”
6 For example the effect on the woman at the well in John 4:17–18 when Jesus told her the secrets of her heart. Her evangelism was, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did” (John 4:29).
7 For example, consider the effect of the raising of Tabitha in Acts 9:42, “And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
8 This was the thing at Pentecost that caused the crowds at first to gather and be amazed (Acts 2:12). “‘We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”