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Three Levels of
by Michael Fondanova
Part 4 of 4
The Gift of "vocal ministry"
Concerning this, we have an account, which is lengthy and difficult to express, since you have become sluggish in your hearing. For although you ought to be teachers because of the time (you have spent). You again have need for someone to teach you the initial elements of the oracles of God, and you have become needful of milk, not solid food. For everyone who partakes of milk is inexperienced in speaking of righteousness, for he is a child, but solid food is for the mature people, who have their senses trained through habit for distinguishing good and evil. (Heb. 5:11-14)
The gnosis, "knowledge" is the pneumatic understanding from the depths, directed toward the practical. Gnosis is the inspired utterance of knowledge for the common good which Paul considered a gift of the Spirit. The manifestation of the Spirit is the actual action/utterance itself in its character as revelation. There are certain [kinds of] action and utterance which demonstrate the Spirit's presence and activity. For Paul, the act of revelation takes place wherever Christ is manifest. Gnosis, "knowledge" and sophia, "wisdom" are the slogans of the faction opposing Paul in Corinth. It is because his opponents claim to possess gnosis and sophia, and deny them to others (including Paul), that Paul addresses them. In 1 Cor. 8:1, we see the Corinthian's proud boast that they possess knowledge. Gnosis for them was the charismatic insight into the real nature of reality, that is, into the structure of the spiritual and material.
For Paul the much more important gnosis is experiential (not speculative), the sense of personal relationship with Christ (Phil. 3:8; 2 Cor. 2:14; 4:6; 10:5). Word of knowledge then would denote charismatic insight into the things provided by God that, understands the relationship of God 'to you' individually or as a community. In 1 Cor. 1 & 2, God's plan is for Christ to become our sophia, "wisdom" - our righteousness, consecration, and redemption. It is not merely a rational acknowledgment. It is participation the experience of God is saving power in the here. In 1 Cor. 2:4 Paul says his message was not with persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of power. This statement gives insight into understanding God's plan and/or benefits to seekers concerning true wisdom.
[I ask] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. [I ask] that the eyes of your heart be illuminated so that you may become aware of the hope to which he is calling you, what glorious riches are an inheritance among the saints, and what is the surpassingly great power toward us who believe. (Eph. 1:17-19a)
The prophetic utterance reveals wisdom or knowledge to others. First, there are two moments of revelation: an experience of enlightenment (illumination) in the past, whose light shall illuminate the present; and the possibility for further illumination in the future given by the Spirit unveiling some aspect of the mind and plan of God. These gifts will deepen the relationship experientially in the knowledge of Him in who is all wisdom and revelation.
We have seen before (2 Ch. 20:14-18) that tongues will be a sign (e.g., tongues and translation of a foreign language). Yet, one of the few relevant passages in the law, which mentions unintelligible utterance, is Isaiah 28:11-12. To those who paid no heed to God's (intelligible) word through the prophets, God will speak through the Assyrian invaders; in other words, the alien tongue of the invading army will be an expression of God's judgment of Judah. "Vocal ministry" is a sign, as is glossolalia, in that both reveal God's attitude - the one God's attitude toward willful unbelief (therefore a sign of judgment), the other God's attitude toward faith. "Vocal ministry" by its inspiration and content reveals that God is present in the midst of the assembly. Even the unbeliever confesses this (1 Cor. 14:24f.). As glossolalia confirms the unbeliever in his unbelief (v. 23 "'You are mad' God is not here"), so "vocal ministry" confirms the believer in his faith (v. 25 "God is here").
"Vocal ministry" refers to the function of communicating revelations from God as a spontaneous utterance. Paul meant that when the prophet speaks God's word, he/she is not to go "beyond that which God has given to speak." (1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 14:31, 33, 39). That is, the speakers operate in "proportion to his faith." The person who exercises the "gift of vocal ministry" should speak only when conscious of one's words as inspired, and presumably only for as long as one is confident that God is speaking through him. None of the gifts affects spiritual well-being more than "vocal ministry." However, the OT formula, "Thus says the Lord," is not in the Corinthian prophets, or to any others. This is because in the New Testament understanding the prophet is to be the Risen Lord speaking in the midst of the congregation!
In all the various lists of charismata, the only constant member is '"vocal ministry"' or 'prophet' (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28ff.; 13:1-3, 8ff.; 14:1-5, 6ff., 26-32; Eph. 4:11; 1 Thess. 5:19-22).
The word of revelation sheds new light on salvation, or on the relation between the exalted Lord and his community, whether present or future, revealing some practical course of action for an individual or group. It would include both foretelling and forth telling. "Vocal ministry" as revelation may overlap with "vocal ministry" as exhortation and consolation. The revealing word also may be a challenging or comforting word (see 1 Thess. 4:15ff.).
Only in two passages, where Paul speaks of gifted men (prophet) not the gift ("vocal ministry"), do prophets fall into second place, behind apostles (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). "Vocal ministry" for Paul meant not so much a prepared sermon as a word of revelation from God, given in words for a specific occasion or situation (14:30), and spontaneously uttered for the up building of the body. "Vocal ministry" builds up because it speaks to the situation of need in the assembly at the time, whether for a word of understanding sympathy (1 Cor. 12:26a), or for a word of challenge and rebuke (Rom. 12:8; 15:30; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 10:1ff. Phil. 4:2; Eph. 4:1ff. 1 Thess. 4:10f.). "Vocal ministry" prevents one from pretending to be other than one is. It prevents the believer from hiding behind the mask of pretended righteousness, of apparent spirituality.
Where the prophetic spirit is present, honesty with oneself and about oneself is indispensable (1 Thess. 2:4). "Vocal ministry" edifies because it does not exalt but humbles, making one aware that we stand before God in all our vulnerability! "Vocal ministry" compels the active community to think about life and faith even more. Without it, the community cannot exist as the Body of Christ; God appears to abandon it.
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