When the King is in Residence…

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” [James 1:2-4].

Recently, my wife has had more than her share of health challenges.  I told her that I wanted to write on the Holy Spirit fruit of joy for St. John Studies and I referenced the words above from James.  She has recently felt quite a lot of pain and she has felt fearful, not knowing what her body was doing. She wondered aloud how she was supposed to feel joy in the midst of all these trials.

What about you?

Are you confused by James also?

What is this fruit called joy?   How does it manifest itself in the believer’s life?  It may be one of the most confusing behaviors that a devout Christian should show, especially when he or she is in the midst of trying circumstances.

The Greek word for joy is chara.  It is used repeatedly in the New Testament to mean joy that comes from a spiritual source and we know what that spiritual source is…it is the Holy Spirit.

To begin to understand chara, maybe the best thing to do is quote from The Holy Spirit*.  “Today’s world is joyless, full of shadows, disillusionment and fear.  Freedom is rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth.  Along with the loss of freedom, a great many of the superficial joys and pleasures of life are also disappearing, but this need not alarm us [Christians].  The Scriptures teach that our spiritual joy is not dependent on circumstances.  The world’s system fails to tap the source of joy.  God by His Spirit directs His joy to our bleak, problem-riddled lives, making it possible for us to be filled with joy regardless of our circumstances” [Graham, 252].

There you have it; our joy is not supposed to be dependent on the everyday trials and tribulations that we all face.  Our joy is not to be dependent on the happy events that may come our way.  Our joy is supposed to be grounded in The Lord. 

Happiness is elusive.  We can’t find it by seeking it; we can try to engineer outward circumstances to bring happiness, but often when we do, even our greatest efforts and greatest amounts of money cannot really bring happiness.  Pleasure is momentary.   We may think that is worth pursuing but even that does not begin to touch the joy that we can feel in The Lord.

What are some sources of joy for the Christian?  The joy of deliverance happens when someone is set free from sin. The joy of salvation occurs when we come to realize that God wants to save us and spend eternity with us.  The joy of spiritual maturity develops when the Holy Spirit works within us to bear more and more fruit and we not only become more confident in God’s promises but we rejoice in Him and with other believers. The joy of God’s presence is when the Holy Spirit draws us close to God, in whose presence we surely know true joy.**

Let’s stop for a minute and think about joy in the midst of trials and tribulations.  If a person is experiencing joy at trying times, what does that communicate?  When we look at the Apostle Paul writing his last letter to Timothy, what were his circumstances?  He had suffered untold horrors in prison, his life was constantly threatened and he knew he would be dead soon, yet he wrote that the joy of The Lord filled his heart.  What message does that send to believers and unbelievers? 

Maybe Paul is saying look at the situation I am in, the dim future that I face, yet I find I can have joy in my heart.

Imagine an unbeliever being in that situation and thinking how they would face the stress; now imagine an unbeliever hearing about a man of God in that situation and thinking about how he is reacting. 

Joy is a fruit of the spirit that serves the believer but can’t you see that this fruit can draw people to God when they see people of God exhibiting calm in the eye of the storm. 

Charles Allen writes “Just as all the water in the world cannot quench the fire of the Holy Spirit, neither can all the troubles and tragedies of the world overwhelm the joy which the Spirit brings into the human heart.”

Graham closes his comments on joy with these telling words:  “Joy is the flag that flies above the palace when the King is in residence” [254].

Think about that Christians…no truer words are spoken.

“When the King is in residence.”

*by Pastor Billy Graham

**from the gotquestions.org website 

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A New Command…

One way of looking at the fruit of the Sprit is to view it in clusters.  Pastor Graham says the first cluster is love, joy and peace; three characteristics which speak of our “Godward relationship.”  Maybe if we took First Corinthians 3: 13 literally, we would infer that the greatest of these is love.

Even though the first cluster is important, all nine characteristics of our Christian lives

[these three and six more that we will discuss]

should be the result of our abiding in Christ, our allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, through us.

Today we focus on the fruit of love.

Pastor Graham describes Christian love like this: “When we reflect on the meaning of love, we see that it is to the heart what the summer is to the farmer’s year.  It brings to harvest all the loveliest flowers of the soul.  Indeed it is the loveliest flower in the garden of God’s grace” [The Holy Spirit, 247].

Indeed, if a Christian cannot show the fruit of love in his or her life, the relationship that one has with God is worth little.  “If love does not characterize our lives, they are empty” [247].   

But what is love other than some vague concept that can include many disparate actions. Let’s explore Christian love further.

It comes from the Greek word agape, a word that is found all over the Greek New Testament.  When Jesus said love your enemies, He used the word agape, when Jesus said we were to love one another in His statement to John, He used the word agape.  When Jesus said “thou shalt love thy neighbor”, He said agape.  According to the New Bible Dictionary, agape is “the highest and noblest form of love.”

Since we are to love as God does, believers should be able to demonstrate agape love.  There is a catch; this form of love does not come from our own willpower, or some earthly inspirational experience.   It comes from God to us through the Holy Spirit.  Agape love is an active love.   It is not just words.   It is not enough to tell someone that you love them; you have to show them through something you do for them. 

Agape love is not selfish at all.  Graham cites Bishop Stephen Neill who defines agape as “a steady direction of the will toward another’s lasting good.”  Agape love is all about the needs of another, not selfish needs.  Human love is largely selfish in nature.  Agape is a self-giving, sacrificial type of love. 

One way to understand agape better is to use three contrasts between human love and God’s love [agape].   I paraphrase from Pastor Graham.  Human love says that I own something that someone else wants.  Human love thinks I wish to be richer by receiving a gift which someone else could give me.  Human love means I want to have the feeling and desire of love which comes and goes according to my emotions.

Contrasting, agape is about wishing to give to others because we love them, gaining riches is not a goal because we desire to make others rich by giving all that we have.  The act of love is not a feeling; it is more a matter of will because it is a choice to give or not to give, simple as that.  It is a choice that comes from a deep-seated need to try to reflect the love of God.

When Jesus said “love one another” this is not a suggestion; it is a command.  It includes wives, husbands, children, extended family members, neighbors and even people we have never met on the other side of the world.  It includes people who are not easy to love.  It includes people who are not like us, so unlike us that they may be hard to love.  It even includes people who have harmed us and have brought sorrow to us.  It includes people who are lonely, people who are destitute, people who are struggling to live life. 

It is a hard command but look at the life of Jesus.  He was moved by compassion for people in his world from the greatest monarch to the lowliest beggar.  His love knew no boundary.   Jesus embraced all kinds of people, no matter their circumstances. 

What is our best model of love?  All Christians should know.  It is God’s love for us as He sent His Son to live among us, knowing He would die an earthly death for our sins.  God loved us so much that He sent us His only Son.

Again, where do we get the impetus to show this love?  First of all, we must yield our wills to Jesus Christ.   When we make Him our Master, we can begin to experience the love of God and we begin to understand that we need to pass that love on to others.  It is not to be hoarded; it is meant to be shared, passed on.  As we experience Godly love for others, the passing it on is the production of fruit.

Graham describes this phenomenon in these words: “Nothing but the Spirit of God working in our lives can produce such fruit [agape], and it will be evident in our public as well as private lives.”

Think about these words.

Think about them seriously and then ask yourself about the fruit of love in your life.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” [John 13: 34].

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A Post Some Christians May Not Love…

“There should be no more distinctive mark of the Christian than love.”

                                                                        Billy Graham from The Holy Spirit

This is an unqualified call to show this fruit of love [behavior of love] every day of our lives but I have to ask the hard question: how many of us fall short? 

You can find countless Scriptures imploring us to show love for one another.  Romans 13: 8 says “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”  First Peter 4:8 encourages “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” First Corinthians 13:1-3 declares “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

“Love is an act of the will and that is why our wills must first be yielded to Christ before we will begin to bear the fruit of love” [Graham, 249].  Maybe that is why so many people do not exhibit love today.  They have not really given their lives to Jesus.  They say they have; in fact, they will declare that they have a personal relationship with God, but do they?  It should show. 

I don’t usually use this blog to “preach.”  I would rather pick important parts of a book and comment on them rather than share my own personal thoughts, but one of the first fruits that should be obvious to others when you give your life to Christ is that you love others.  It just seems that today, too many Christians just find themselves in situations where they are incapable of showing it.

American culture today makes it tough.   We live in a country that is obsessed with expression and too often the expression that is expressed is far from what I would call love.  So many people seem to be caught up in what has come to be called “social media”.  I find the term ironic.  I know I am not “hip” when I write this but social means conversation, one to one or one to small group.  Beyond small group it becomes public speaking [one to large group].  My point is social media is not social; interaction occurs directly between people.  Ideas get exchanged, we attend to words and body language and there can be mutual respect for other people.

Social media’s flaw is that it happens on a phone or computer as images are shared and words are added on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  There is a barrier between the one with the ideas and the recipient of those ideas [that barrier is a phone or a computer].  There is safety when you express yourself without seeing any effect.  People seem to get bold when they have a firewall between themselves and their audience; they say hateful things, judgmental things, discouraging things.  You might expect that people who don’t believe in God would have no qualms about doing this…

But oftentimes, many of the negative things I see expressed come from Christians.

Lifestyle comments are so common today.  If anyone’s existence gets publicized on social media, or even television or the newspaper, people feel emboldened to weigh in on their circumstances.   I see comments all the time about people who have some unique situation in their life:  a parent who may have accidently left a child unattended, a man who is struggling to help his sick wife, a successful television personality who is struggling with an addiction.  We could go on and on.  Examples abound.   Many people feel they should comment on another person’s life as though they know the person involved.   People are complex and none of us need to comment, much less castigate others.  We don’t know others’ circumstances.  To use the cliché, we have not “walked a mile in their shoes” but we comment anyhow.

Some of those very uncharitable comments come from Christians.

The last area for me to focus on is in the arena of politics today.  Politics has become a blood sport and as we consider what side we want to identify with, it is open season for the use of hateful talk about others who don’t have our views. For example one party in America is supposed to hate the other, and after lining up with one party or the other, it is common to believe that the chosen party’s view on governance is right for our diverse society.   To be honest, when one studies policy from both parties, there are good and bad ideas in both.  To have effective government, it would be best to take the good ideas from competing parties and use all of them.  That is not what we do today.  We would rather go to a public forum, spew hateful comments at those who don’t believe like us and march back to our corner. 

Some of the most hateful comments I read come from Christians.

Let’s talk about irony.  I am a perfect example of irony. It is ironic that I would complain about social media and what do I do with this blog?  I put it on a platform that makes it available to the public [social media].  I put links to it on Facebook [social media].  My own ironic behavior is not lost on me.

But here is another irony that I want to reveal.  Billy Graham states “No matter how else we may bear our testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ, the absence of love nullifies it all”.    He goes further by writing “If love does not characterize our lives, they are empty.”   If Christians love Jesus Christ, we should be very concerned about what we put on social media, know that the device we are using to express ourselves is not an excuse for hateful comments.  I wonder what Jesus would think about us being so negative about other people we don’t even know.  I wonder what He would think of our disdain of others’ lifestyles when we don’t even know them.  Lastly, the world is a tempting thing and too many Christians are caught up in politics and don’t realize that they are supposed to love the people in the “other” party, that the “other” people are humans who are deserving of our love, even if they don’t think like us.  Here is a real shocker:  many of the people who are hated are Christians who just happen to have a different view of life.

I know this post may be one that angers readers but I have struggled with the “first fruit” of the fruits of the spirit: love.  I stand back from time to time and watch how we behave as a society and I am appalled.  I believe Graham when he says “There should be no more distinctive mark of the Christian than love.”

I also believe this because it calls us to examine our fruit as Christian brothers and sisters:  “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” [John 13; 35].

Stand back from time to time and consider your words.

What type of fruit are you showing?

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Abide in Me…

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15: 5].

There are several scriptures about how “fruit” grows in the Bible but the beginning understanding of how that can happen occurs in John 15: 5.

I am the vine says Jesus as He is trying to explain His relationship with His Disciples and in essence, He calls them to be faithful loyal followers [if you remain in me and I in you] you will bear fruit.  Fruit is the behavior that a person can exhibit if they believe in Jesus and His Father God [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodwill etc.*].

Apart from me you can do nothing are key words because Jesus says in those words that the source of your fruit is Him [belief in Him and His Father] and despite all your best efforts, trying to produce fruit on your own power just does not work.

Pastor Billy Graham, like Jesus, likes to use illustrations to drive home a clear understanding.  He writes about a conversation a person could have with a grapevine.  One might ask a branch of a grapevine “How do you grow such luscious fruit?”.  The branch might reply “I don’t know.  I don’t grow any of it; I just bear it.   Cut me off from this vine and I will wither away and become useless.”  In other words, without the vine the branch can do nothing.  Graham writes “So it is with our lives.  As long as I strain and work to produce the fruit of the Spirit from within myself, I will end up fruitless and frustrated.”  We depend on the vine which is Jesus Christ.

We have to abide in Him.

What is this word abide?  It appears in John 15 when Jesus says “Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.”

Christians need firm foundations, like that tree planted by the river in Psalm 1.  That tree yields much fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither.  Where do we get that foundation?  We get it from the Christian disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. 

What do we get from these disciplines?  A close relationship with God through prayer, knowledge of God through Bible study and support and love from fellow Christians through fellowship.   We cannot display the fruit of the spirit if we have a weak fellowship with God, if our lives have been disrupted by acts of sin. 

One part of abiding resides in our efforts to know God and be close to God.

The other part of abiding resides in obedience.  If we study God’s word and pray to God and have fellowship with other believers, we begin to know what Jesus Christ expects of us.  As we come to know Christ, we should begin to take on characteristics of Christ and our behaviors should change.  Like the sap that flows from the vine to the branch, the sap nourishes the branch and produces fruit.   That fruit is our Christ-like behavior.

In our instant success world, some may think that this process can happen quickly; just grab a Bible, get a few pointers about how to pray and start hanging around church.  Well it does not work that way.  It takes time to incorporate new disciplines into life and it takes time to learn new ideas and new behaviors.  The fruit on the fruit tree takes time to mature, and that is where pruning comes into play. 

Novice gardeners know that the best way to produce strong plants, bushes and trees is to prune them.  As you cut back weak branches on a tree for instance, you force energy back down into the tree, into the root system and a new stronger tree will grow over time.   There is no such thing as instant maturity; many pruning’s over many years are needed to produce strong plants and good abundant fruit.

Again, using the power of a story, Graham tells of pruning grapevines.  Some years he picked small crops of substandard grapes for personal use, but he did not cut all his grapevines down.  He removed the weak branches; he pruned them carefully.  The next year the vines produced better fruit.  That same idea applies to us as Christians.  As we grow and mature in our beliefs, we hopefully will produce better fruit over time.

Our gardener is God.  When we have sinful behaviors that inhibit our ability to produce fruit, God prunes them away, leaving the Christ-like behaviors.

God our Father, tells us where we have fallen short and gone astray, all the time encouraging us, hoping we will grow stronger, hoping we will abide in Him and produce more fruit.

*We will elaborate on the fruit in later posts.

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Fruit of the Spirit…For Every Believer…

Gifts of the Holy Spirit are unique.  Just because one person gets a gift [such as teaching], that does not mean that all other believers get that gift.  Billy Graham was known to have the gift of evangelizing, but the Holy Spirit does not give that gift to just anyone [certainly not like He gave it to Billy Graham].  Part of the discussion of the gift of tongues is the envy that some people have because they don’t have a particular spiritual gift. For example if someone can speak in tongues, why can’t I? 

Again, it is because spiritual gifts are unique. 

But let’s write about something that is not unique…the fruit of the Holy Spirit.   When it comes to the Bible’s teaching on the fruit of the Holy Spirit, God wants all believers to have the fruit of the Spirit.   Let’s be clear; all believers should have all of the fruit of the spirit.  That is God’s expectation in our lives.

Graham interprets Matthew 13 as evidence of how the fruit is supposed to work.  When one professes belief in God, the process of “growing fruit” is supposed to begin.  Simply put, it is the development of a “Christlike” character that is supposed to manifest itself in certain outward behaviors as we conduct our lives. 

Matthew 13 explains why we don’t all exhibit the fruit; of course Matthew 13 is the parable of the seed and the sower.  Pastors, evangelists and teachers or any other Christian for that matter can sew the seed.  The problem is that some seed never grows.   The parable says that some seeds fall by the wayside and are eaten by birds.  Maybe that is the message of the Holy Spirit about Christian behavior that never is heard.  Some seed falls on rocky ground and without soil, it withers and dies.  The message is delivered and is heard but it does not take root.   For some, they hear the words but they are really not ready to receive them.  They are like rocks and nothing grows on a rock.  Other seed is sown and it grows for a while but eventually thorns begin to grow around the seed and the thorns choke out seed growth.  Maybe those thorns are sins that begin to take over and the sin will keep the seed from growing, literally choking out the production of “fruit.”  Finally is that group of seed that falls into good soil.  That seed begins to root and it brings forth abundant fruit.  The fourth situation is what God desires for all believers.   He wants the Word of God to take root in our lives in the power of the Spirit.   He wants that word to produce fruit.

We cannot produce fruit on our own.  In essence we cannot produce godliness in our lives apart from the Holy Spirit.  Graham hits the nail on the head when he says that all of us are filled with all kinds of “self-centered and self-seeking” desires which are in direct opposition to God’s will for our lives. 

What would God have us do?  First of all, He wants us to make an honest effort to root as much sin out of our lives as possible.   As that happens, He wants us to allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives with spiritual fruit.   Colossians 3:5, 12 gives a clue to what The Bible means about “fruit”:  “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…. as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” 

Graham uses a simple and effective illustration to explain this transfer of behaviors.  He compares our spiritual lives as a home that is surrounded by a fence.  The fence has a gate and we all know what gates are used for. They are used for letting people in or keeping people out.  Inside our gate are all sorts of things that are unpleasing to God [i.e. sins].  We need to let those sins out, but we don’t have the power to open the gate.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that.  When does He open that gate?  He does that when “we yield to Him and look to Him for His fullness” [240].  At that point the Holy Spirit will come in and help us throw out the evil things in our lives.  Not only does He control the gate, He controls the purging of our heart, the development of new attitudes, new motivations.  Graham even says “He strengthens the gate with bars to keep out evil. 

In summary, the works of the flesh [sins] depart and the fruit of the Spirit comes in. 

What triggers this?

Did you note the word “yield?” 

Unless we are ready to yield to God, none of this will happen.  This is the “rub.”  Many people are not willing to yield to God; they cling to their habits, they cling to their need for sin, they may even cling to their feelings of guilt about their sin, and they can’t move forward.  They may have regret for their lifestyle choices, but they can’t totally agree with God over the matter.   Well known Christian author and lecturer Beth Moore says we are not ready to give up a sin if we still cherish it in our heart.   It is only when we develop a Godly sorrow for the sin that it has a chance to go away.   God can change our hearts at that point.  Again God changes us; we don’t change ourselves.  It is all about yielding to Him.

After reading this introduction to the Holy Spirit and sensing the need for some of this fruit [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience] where are you in Matthew 13?

Are you letting the seed fall by the wayside, and you are not even paying attention to it?

Are you the rock, allowing the seed to land on your non-porous surface but it is not growing?

Are you the ground that receives the seed and it grows for a while but then it is choked out by your sin?

Are you the good ground that receives the seed and the seed grows and produces fruit?

Where are you in the parable?  Maybe you would like to be the good ground, but people cannot be that unless they are ready to give God control over your life.  In the story referenced above, Graham says this “as we yield to Him and look to Him for His fullness—He not only comes in but He helps us thrust out the evil things in our lives.”

He controls the gate.

He purges the heart.

He brings in the new attitudes etc.

God wants to us have His fruit of the Spirit…all we have to do is develop a Godly sorrow in our hearts and say to Him “help me”.  His response…

“Behold I make all things new.”

References to Billy Graham The Holy Spirit and Beth Moore Praying God’s Word.

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The Last Words on Speaking in Tongues…

Full disclosure: many Christians have such reverence for Pastor Billy that they love him no matter what his denomination.  In my mind, that is a very good thing.   He was a spirit-filled Christian who evangelized, calling millions of lost people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  He did the work of The Lord.

He was an ordained Southern Baptist Minister.

What denominations today primarily speak in tongues?  Grahams writes that there are Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists as well as Pentecostals who speak or have spoken in tongues.

Full disclosure: the denominations that are most associated with this spiritual gift are most often Pentecostal or Charismatic Christian churches.

As I have commented on his book The Holy Spirit, I have taken significant sections and I have broken them down, explaining Graham’s ideas, putting my own twist on his thoughts, adding to his ideas from other sources.   His book has been an extensive discussion of all aspects of the Holy Spirit, but no subject has been discussed as much as the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.   Being a Southern Baptist, the gift of tongues is not as common in his “mainline” denomination but it has occurred and it certainly deserves attention.  With Pastor Graham, I would say his lengthy discussion is an effort to be in “balance.”  He does not condemn this spiritual gift, but he also does not promote it.

Why do I say that?  I present six reasons from his book to support my assertion.

First, the various interpretations of speaking in tongues in Acts 1, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 do not actually agree on the act of speaking in tongues.  That is ok, but the variation of the act itself may mean that we need to be very careful in accepting any utterance as a legitimate spiritual experience.

Second, tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a fruit.  Fruits of the Spirit should mark every Christian who is walking in the Spirit.  Graham and I cannot find any Biblical evidence that tongues is a gift given to all believers.  This can lead Christians who don’t have this gift to view themselves as “second rate” believers but feeling that way is not valid.  “It would be equally wrong for someone who has this gift to try to compel others to have it, or to teach that everyone must experience it” [227].

Graham says that the gift of tongues “is clearly one of the “less important” gifts of the spirit” [227].   He says that because it does not seem to provide any spiritual benefit to other believers.   The other gifts of the Spirit are exercised to build up and strengthen the body of Christ, but unless an interpreter is present, tongues in a public worship service does little for the mutual strengthening of believers present.

In a fourth point, Graham says that tongues are not a sign of baptism of the believer by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.  “Nowhere in the Bible do I find it said that the gift of tongues is a necessary evidence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit in Christ’s body” [228].  Graham further states that some of the most Spirit-filled Christians he has ever known have never experienced the gift of tongues.

To further explain his position, Graham writes at length about the abuse of the gift of tongues.  He cites pride that can occur when a believer is given the gift, with the recipient feeling more spiritual than other believers.  I have already discussed at length the divisive nature of tongues [see January 23rd post].   He cites imbalance that can occur when a believer focuses all of their attention on that gift and neglects other gifts.  Some feel that tongues can be thought of as a short-cut to spiritual maturity when in reality, millions of mature Christians have never spoken in tongues and many who have spoken in tongues are not spiritually mature.  The occurrence of tongues may be “counterfeit”; Graham cites historical examples of people who professed to speak in tongues, but they were found to be frauds.*   Today, Christians have admitted that they faked speaking in tongues just to be accepted in their worship groups.

The last point is the speaking in tongues in a private, devotional sense.  Graham admits that over the years some of his friends have prayed such fervent prayers that they found themselves speaking in an unknown language.  Maybe this is real, as most of the recordings of this have never been publically acknowledged.  His friends have stated emphatically that their experience is real.   Maybe this has happened to you and if it was a private experience, who can declare it “counterfeit?” 

Graham’s last words on this spiritual gift are these; if you have this gift, that is good; if you don’t that is good too.  “We worship the same Lord, and for this we are grateful” [233].

Is this a gift that God has seen fit to give you?  Don’t be prideful about it.  Don’t be preoccupied with it.  Is this a gift that God has not given you?  Don’t be preoccupied that He has not given it to you.   Don’t let it divide you from your fellow believers.  “Whenever gifts of this nature are given, they must be used strictly in accordance with the principles God has set forth in the Bible.  This should also contribute to the unity of the Spirit.  And if God chooses to give these gifts to some today, we should always pray that they will be used ‘for the common good’ and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God” [235].

There are brothers and sisters who have a different emphasis than you, and different gift or gifts.  

Always remember that they are still your brothers and sisters in Christ. “love others, including believers who may not agree with your emphasis” [235].

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

We would all live our best lives if we focus on what unites us. 

We have to look no further than Christ’s second commandment.

*the ancient Greek oracle of Delphi, the Pharaoh’s magicians [recoded in the Bible]

**John 13: 34

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The Divisive Nature of Speaking in Tongues…

As discussed in the previous post, the Holy Spirit “sign” gift of tongues is discussed by Pastor Billy Graham in his book The Holy Spirit more than any other gift that God gives to man. 

Why would that be?

One simple reason could be that the Bible has so many varied references to tongues in its pages.  When there is variation, that can lead people to different interpretations and even divisiveness.

One thing that Graham is sure about is this:  no gift of God should really lead man to divisiveness.  Evidence for this is in his words on page 220 of his book:  “Neither the Holy Spirit nor any of His gifts were given to divide believers.  That does not mean that we ought not have our own opinions about what the Bible teaches on tongues.  Or that we should not have local congregations in which prominence is given to tongues as well as those in which tongues are not prominent.  But I am certain about one thing: when the gift of tongues is abused and becomes divisive, then something has gone wrong.  Sin has come into the body of Christ.”

The historical background for this “sign” gift does exist in the Bible.   Most people who know Scripture point to Acts 2 when a band of Christians experienced the miracle of tongues.  A sound from heaven like a violent wind filled the house where they were gathered to worship.  Something like tongues of fire sat on each person in the room.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.  All of them spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them the ability to do so.  

Here is the interesting part.  The tongues were languages known to people from all over the Roman Empire who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost but they weren’t known by the speakers.  Immediately this would lead to varied interpretations.  Some saw the miracle taking place in the ears of the hearers.  They heard the “tongues” and understood them.  Others say the miracle resides in the fact that people who could not speak a foreign language were given a language they did not know. 

However you see this, a miracle took place.

There are multiple additional references to being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible.   Acts 4:8 says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as he preached a sermon but the sermon was not in tongues.  John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:15 but John never spoke in tongues.  When Paul was converted and Ananias came to him to restore his sight, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues but his proclamations were not in tongues.

We don’t hear about tongues again until Acts 19: 6, when Paul was at Ephesus.  There he found believers who had heard nothing about the Holy Spirit, but when Paul laid his hands on them they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.  There were no tongues of fire or rushing winds.   There is no mention about the language spoken [whether the people speaking it or hearing it understood it or not].

First Corinthians has an instance of speaking in tongues.  In this instance, the Corinthians spoke a language that seemed unrelated to any language that anyone understood.  Many read this Scripture and conclude that this was some type of “ecstatic utterance” unrelated to any known human language.  Paul reports that this language was a gift that comes from the Holy Spirit.

What well-meaning Christians have done with all of this variation is to disagree about what speaking in tongues means and that is a shame.  Some feel that tongues is a sign that is given when a person is baptized; other don’t feel that way at all.  Some see the gift of tongues given to some but not to others.  Other even see tongues as a sign of spiritual maturity.  Paul has a lot to say about gifts in First Corinthians, referring to gifts as charismata.  The upshot of his comments is that every believer gets a gift but not every believer gets the same gift.   One gift is not common to all believers [i.e. tongues].  Maybe we ought to take Paul at his word.

Based on my experiences of speaking in tongues, conversations I have had and study I have done, I tend to believe Pastor Graham is right, that the Holy Spirit gift of tongues is a gift that God gives to further His kingdom, not to tear down His kingdom through divisiveness.  I found it interesting when Graham cites personal encounters with people who have spoken in tongues from his life.   He speaks of a pastor who was deathly ill and he prayed to God in a special language; he writes of a mother who spent an entire night praying in tongues that her horrible life burdens would be lifted.  The pastor recovered and the woman had better life circumstances soon after their times of speaking in tongues.  Graham felt both examples were legitimate communications with God in “God language” or tongues.  People around both of these people confirmed they could not decipher their prayers.  

Graham cites a Sunday school class that was interested in the Holy Spirit.  They began to study speaking in tongues because many people in their neighborhood around their church were interested in this subject and it had become a topic of discussion.  Not all agreed about the gift.  Graham recounts a person in the class who became preoccupied with speaking in tongues, doing little else for an extended period of time.  He did his best to make sure that others had the same experience he did.   Graham was not sure about this man’s experience, saying it could have been some “psychological influence” [maybe an obsession].  He later got over this fascination with tongues and become a gifted minister of the Gospel.

Lastly, Graham writes of a converted gang member fighter from a large city.  This person spent some time with the man above who was preoccupied with speaking in tongues.   He told others in the class that he recognized the language spoken; it was the same language his grandmother used when she earned her living as a spirit medium.  Graham says this could be an example of how Satan can use the gift of tongues for his own purposes, causing others to doubt the authenticity of the gift.

Accept tongues or not?

Who am I to say?

What is Billy Graham’s stand on this?  “While I do not pose as an expert on the subject of tongues, my opinions have come from my study of the Bible and conversations with many people.”

For me, the next statement is the most important.  I started this post with it and it is good to remember it regarding this controversial gift:  “Neither the Holy Spirit nor any of His gifts were given to divide believers.”

When people disagree about the gift of tongues, that is a “worldly thing.”   God knows if the gift of tongues is real and people who receive it know it is real.  Maybe our job is not to judge, but to take this gift on faith. 

The judgement about the reality or falseness of this gift?

Let’s leave that to God…

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