Saturday, September 20, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 13)

With these things said, Paul can be heard to say: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are different ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (12:4-6).  Given the cultural context in which differences are celebrated and quite determinative of one’s standing, Paul’s repetitive employment of “different… but… same” is key.  It is a significant component of the theme of corporate unity that underlies the whole of the letter and most certainly chapters twelve through fourteen.  In that mode of corporate unity, he continues, writing “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all” (12:7). 

Here, in much the same mode as his use of “different” and “same,” Paul deploys “each” and “all.”  Expounding upon the “different,” “same,” “each,” and “all” statements, Paul writes “For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (12:8).  It must be pointed out that, if one takes seriously the use of different, same, each, and all, it is impossible to see a hierarchical function in the list of spiritual gifts to which Paul makes reference.  Paul is not stressing that one gift is more important that another, or that one gift somehow stands further down the list of importance, for that would actually militate against the point that he is making in regards to the body.

Continuing on, Paul indicates that the Creator God gives “to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (12:9-10).  This use of “to another” stands as a reminder that this is not a vertical listing.  It is a linear and horizontal listing.  For Paul, all are equally valid and equally honorable manifestations of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, as Paul rounds out this particular rhetorical flourish with “It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as He decides to each person, who produces all these things” (12:11).  The reference to the Spirit’s activity informs the hearer that any honor to be assigned is not to be assigned to the person through whom the gift is being enacted, but to the Spirit that is producing the action.  If honor is assigned to the individuals because of the exercise of the spiritual gift, then something has gone wrong. 

The body of Christ must resist the tendency to elevate any of these gifts or to devalue any of these gifts, while also resisting the tendency to think of the last items on the list as spiritual leftovers.  However, it may be of interest to note, as it relates to this study, that Paul does mention speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues towards the end of his list.  Again, for those that would allow lists to function in a “first to last” movement, this would not be to demean these practices in any way.  Instead, might it be possible that they are placed where they are strictly for function, so that those gifts will be top of mind as Paul moves forward with his letter?  This may not be far-fetched, as not only is speaking in tongues mentioned again at the close of chapter twelve and at the opening of chapter thirteen, but it is the primary subject matter of chapter fourteen. 

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