Part 8: The Relation of True Spirituality to the Word of God

(The following is the latest installment in our series of articles drawn from Pastor Stam’s classic work on True Spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)


In the Pauline Epistles the human race is divided, by the Spirit, into four classes:

  • The natural man.
  • The babe in Christ.
  • The carnal Christian.
  • The spiritual Christian.

All four of these are referred to in one passage of Scripture (I Cor. 2:14-3:4) and it should be noted that they are classified according to their ability to appreciate and assimilate “the things of God” as revealed in His Word. We quote the passage here in full:

“But the NATURAL man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

“But he that is SPIRITUAL judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto CARNAL, even as unto BABES in Christ.

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

“For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”


The “natural,” or soulish man is the man we have described in the first chapter of this book; the fallen son of fallen Adam, as he is, without God; his fallen soul dominating his entire being. God says with regard to him, that he “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” that “they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them” (I Cor. 2:14). This is so even where the simple “preaching of the cross” is concerned, for we read that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (I Cor. 1:18).

This is not intended as a rebuke. It is a simple statement of fact. Man, by nature, does not receive the things of the Spirit, “neither can he know them.” By worldly standards he may be generous and kind, gifted, cultured and refined; he may be possessed of superior intellectual powers, yes, and even be quite religious, but with all this he still remains utterly helpless to comprehend “the things of God.” Why? “Because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

“The things of God” must remain completely incomprehensible to the wisest, most religious man on earth until God reveals them to him by His Spirit (I Cor. 2:10) and this is effected only as God imparts the Spirit to him:

“For what man [or, who] knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:11).

An animal cannot appreciate “the things of a man,” for the simple reason that he possesses an animal nature, rather than human nature. In the same way man, as he is, cannot understand “the things of God,” unless God imparts to him His nature. Indeed, man cannot even truly understand the animal world, which is beneath him; how could he understand God, who is above him, unless the Spirit of God be imparted to Him?

This explains why otherwise intelligent men fail, no matter how they try, to take in spiritual truths which seem so simple to the child of God; it explains why great intellectual leaders can make such fools of themselves when they begin to discuss “the things of God”; indeed, it explains why even religious leaders can display such abysmal ignorance of spiritual truths so clearly revealed in the Word, for neither intellectual acumen nor religious zeal qualify or enable the natural man to understand the things of God. Man, by nature, can know only “the things of a man” because he has only “the spirit of man” within him (I Cor. 2:11).

In this connection the apostle does not divide the unsaved into classes, for all are equally, because totally, in darkness as to “the things of the Spirit of God.” They may observe and recognize certain facts which give them to feel that they are on the “right track,” but actually they are in such spiritual darkness that they fail utterly to comprehend the things which the Word reveals about God, or to understand and have fellowship with God Himself.

But the apostle does classify the saved into three groups, of which the first to be considered is:


It will be observed that when Paul first came to the Corinthians in their unsaved condition, he proclaimed to them “Christ crucified”:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you…determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:1,2).

The reason for this is not difficult to determine. It was by “the death of the cross” that our blessed Lord procured salvation for us, hence it is by “the preaching of the cross” that the Spirit works in men’s hearts to save them. On the cross our Lord paid the just penalty for sin, and the Spirit uses the proclamation of this fact to convict and convert the lost; thus, for a twofold reason the preaching of the cross is said to be the power of God unto salvation.

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18).1

“But we preach Christ crucified…unto them which are called, both Jews: and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:23,24).

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you…by which also ye are saved…how that Christ died for our sins…that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day…” (I Cor. 15:1-4).

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…for therein is the righteousness of God revealed…” (Rom. 1:16,17).

The “preaching of the cross” then, is what the Holy Spirit uses to save men. Even this message, to be sure, is “foolishness” to them until the Spirit operates within them and causes them to see, but He uses no other. No man in the present dispensation is saved apart from the preaching of the cross. It is only as that message is preached, and the Holy Spirit reveals it to the heart that the child of Adam is begotten anew and becomes a babe in the family of God; a “babe in Christ.”

The “babe in Christ” is not, of course, ready immediately for the “strong meat,” the solid food, of the Word. He could not yet digest these “deep things of God” (Heb. 5:13,14 cf. I Cor. 2:10) but must first be fed on the “milk of the Word” (I Pet. 2:2) the elementary truths of the gospel, by which he was saved and wherein he must learn to stand (I Cor. 15:1,2).

Babes in Christ can hardly be called either “carnal” or “spiritual,” since the things they do and say may be attributed so largely to the fact that they have not yet grown up. They may, however, be “carnally minded” or “spiritually minded” (Rom. 8:6). If “carnally minded,” they will wither and shrivel up, rather than grow, and will become carnal Christians, no longer possessing even the bloom and freshness of youth. If “spiritually minded,” they will blossom and grow from the freshness of spiritual childhood to the vigor of spiritual manhood,

“For to be carnally minded is death;2 but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

What is it to be “spiritually minded”? Simply to be vitally interested in the things of God, as revealed in the Word of God. Let man’s criterion of spirituality be what it may; God’s is simply this: How interested is this child of Mine in what I have to say and wish him to do? How much has he grown in the knowledge of it? Thus it is a sincere effort to know and obey God’s Word that produces true spirituality. The Word is the food on which we grow. This is why babes in Christ are exhorted:

“As newborn babes, desire the sincere [pure] milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2).

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [fullgrown] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

“But speaking [holding] the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:13-15)


How often have we all been reminded of the exhortation of the Apostle Peter: “Desire the sincere [pure] milk of the Word”! But how seldom have these words been emphasized in their relation to the rest of the verse:

“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2).

How often have preachers of the gospel used as their motto the words of Paul to the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”! (I Cor. 2:2). “Christ crucified,” they think, is the very acme of Christian truth, when in fact it is but the very beginning, the foundation, for the apostle goes on to write in this same passage:

“Howbeit, we speak wisdom among them that are perfect [mature]…” (I Cor. 2:6).

How many there are, even among those who have known Christ for years, who boast about believing the Bible but show little or no desire to understand it! Rather than study to attain to a better understanding of the Word of God and become such as know how to wield “the Sword of the Spirit,” they boast that they have gotten no farther than “the simple things.” To them the Bible is actually little more than a fetish; a mystical book containing many wonderful comforting passages. They give the curses and difficult passages but passing glances and choose for their meditation and discussion only those which “warm their hearts.”

The Bible itself calls such people carnal, or fleshly (Gr., sarkikos). They possess the Spirit, but walk after the flesh, with little interest in learning what the Spirit would have them know. They have been born of God but have not grown. They are not actually babes, for they have been saved long enough to have grown to spiritual maturity, but having failed to grow they must be dealt with “as babes.” It was among such that the apostle determined not to know anything save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2 cf. 3:1-4). The natural man, of course, cannot take in even this. The carnal Christian, like the babe in Christ, can take in the fact that Christ died for him but can digest little more than this. To such the apostle wrote, by inspiration:

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (I Cor. 3:1,2).

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat [solid food].

“For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the Word of righteousness: for he is a babe” (Heb. 5:12,13).


What joy and fellowship there is in gatherings where the newly-saved are present! In the spiritual realm, as well as in the physical, everyone loves a baby! But the joy that fills the hearts of loving parents is turned to bitter sorrow and disappointment if their babe fails to grow. The latter condition is as unspeakably sad and embarrassing as the former is joyous. Just so it is in the realm of the spirit.

The carnal Christian has failed to grow. He continues in a state of protracted infancy. He must be kept exclusively on a milk diet because, though saved for years, he is still unable to “bear” solid food, still “unskilful in the Word” and needing to be taught the elementary things.


Retarded spiritual growth is evidenced in many ways, all of which come under the heading of carnality or fleshliness. The Corinthians, so sternly rebuked for their carnality by the Apostle Paul, are said to have been careless about morals (I Cor. 5:1), puffed up (I Cor. 4:18; 5:2), inconsiderate of each other (I Cor. 6:1-7; 8:1,9,12), stingy (II Cor. 8:6-11; 11:7-9). While possessing the Spirit, they walked after the flesh.

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.

“Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

“Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.3

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

“Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:19-23).

One of the most marked indications of retarded spiritual growth is self-interest and party strife, as seen in the case of the Corinthian believers. They were spiritually small and petty, so that the apostle had to write them:

“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

“For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos;4 are ye not carnal?” (I Cor. 3:3,4).

It is not without significance that Peter’s exhortation to “newborn babes” to “desire the sincere milk of the Word” that they may “grow thereby,” is prefaced by the words: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” (I Pet. 2:1).

Similarly the Apostle Paul writes:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

“With all lowliness, and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“There is one Body…” (Eph. 4:1-4).

We do well to give heed to these admonitions today, with the professing Church divided into hundreds of denominations. To think or talk in terms of “my church” or “our church,” rather than “the Church”; to consider only self and party, is a sign of spiritual immaturity. It is childish and petty, and sincere believers should grow up from such an attitude.

In connection with this the apostle writes to the Corinthians: “Are ye not carnal and walk as men?” i.e., as other men, in their natural, unsaved state. This aptly sums up the condition of the carnal Christian. He is saved, but walks, in many respects, as the unsaved about him. Put him among a group of unsaved people, and it will be difficult to tell the difference. Fortunately, we are told in II Timothy 2:19 that “the Lord knoweth them that are His,” but this passage goes on to say: “AND, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Thank God, the simplest of believers are no longer “the children of wrath, even as others,” but believers who “walk as men” will surely suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ.


In the physical realm retarded growth may be due to some mishap or may be simply one of the results of the curse, having no direct bearing on the behavior of the parents, and certainly not of the child itself. In the spiritual realm this is not so. God has made abundant provision for every child of God to grow to spiritual manhood, and Paul rebukes the Corinthian believers for not having grown.

The trouble with the Corinthians was that they did not have much of an appetite for the Word; they did not have a passion to know and obey the truth, for the babe in Christ who “desires” the pure milk of the Word will surely “grow thereby.” This was the trouble with the Hebrew believers too, for when the apostle would have gone further into the great subject of Christ as “an high priest after the order of Melchisedec,” he was forced to write:

“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull [Gr., Nothros, slothful] of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).

And this is precisely the cause of the carnality among believers today.

During World War II there were several occasions when parents came to the writer with letters from their sons in the armed forces, explaining that a code had been arranged by which “Johnny” could let them know to which theatre of the war he had been sent, but that now it was difficult to understand his letter. Together we would sit down and study the letter in detail in an effort to make out exactly what it was that “Johnny” was trying to make his parents understand.

Such interest and concern over a letter from “Johnny”! and appropriately so, but do the majority of believers show such interest in the Word of God to them? Are they as deeply concerned to understand its contents as they would be over a letter from “Johnny”? They are not. They are satisfied with “the simple things,” with knowing only a few passages which “warm their hearts.” This is what is back of their spiritual immaturity and their carnality.


Let us put it down, then, and never forget it: God holds us responsible to grow to spiritual maturity through sincere and diligent study of His Word.

To the newly saved He says:

“Desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2).

“Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).

To those who have been saved for some time He says:

“Ye ought to be teachers” (Heb. 5:12).

To all He says:

“For everyone that useth milk is unskilful in the Word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

“But strong meat [solid food] belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine [Gr., Word of the beginning] of Christ, let us go on unto perfection [maturity]…” (Heb. 5:13-6:1).

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to an fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:14,15).


“But he that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things, yet he himself is judged [discerned] of no man.

“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:15,16).

From the above passage alone it is evident that the spiritual Christian stands far above the carnal Christian or the babe in Christ—certainly above the natural man—as far as spiritual discernment is concerned. He discerns all things, yet none can discern him, for he is spiritually above them. “For who,” asks the apostle, “can understand the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him?”

Through diligent, prayerful study of the Word, and with a sincere desire to obey it, the spiritual man has come to understand God and to know His Son more and more intimately. Babes in Christ and carnal believers cannot “judge” or “discern” him, simply because they have not come to know God as he. But he, having grown to spiritual maturity, quite understands them, for he has “the mind of Christ.” He is among those of whom it is written:

“But strong meat [solid food] belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Thus there is a great difference between the mere child of God and the man of God. The immature child of God can digest the milk of the Word and pass that on to others, but he must necessarily come far short of God’s will for him. But of the man of God we read:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness;

“That the man of God may be perfect [complete] thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16,17).


But what is this “meat,” this “solid food” of the Word? What are these “deep things of God,” this “wisdom,” that Paul proclaimed to the spiritually mature?

The apostle gives us the answer himself when he says:

“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect [mature]; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery…the hidden…which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (I Cor. 2:6,7).

The “wisdom” which Paul made known to mature believers, then, concerned “the mystery,” the secret of God’s eternal purpose and of all His good news; the most precious and exalted truth in all the Word of God.

The apostle says of this great body of truth that believers are established by it (Rom. 16:25) that God would have His saints know the riches of the glory of it (Col. 1:27) that it knits hearts together in love and gives the full assurance of understanding (Col. 2:2). He calls it “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) and prays for open doors and an open mouth to proclaim it (Eph. 6:19,20; Col. 4:3,4) and open minds and hearts to receive it (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21). Naturally, the devil hates it and those who stand for it will, like Paul, have to suffer for it (II Tim. 2:8,9; Eph. 6:10-20) but such suffering is sweet—”the fellowship of His suffering.”

But alas, the vast majority of Christians are too willing to wait until they get to heaven to understand these glorious truths, not realizing that their indifference to the written Word of God will cost them dearly in rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. How many there are who suppose that the apostle is referring to heaven when he says:

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).

But Paul does not refer to heaven here. He refers to truths now made known, for he goes on to say:

“But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10).

It is not with respect to heaven, but with respect to the riches of God’s mercy to all under the present dispensation of the Mystery, that the apostle exclaims:

“For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:32,33).5


We have already seen that it is honest, prayerful study of the Word, not some emotional religious experience, that brings us to spiritual maturity and understanding. But does it not require superior intellectual powers to understand these “deep things of God?” No indeed. Superior intellects of unsaved men are unable to appreciate even the “simple” truths of the Word, for, as we have already seen, “they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). And as to the mystery, the apostle wrote that it was “revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).

The mystery is not merely something more difficult to grasp intellectually, for the apostle specifically states that it is “not the wisdom of this world” but “the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 2:6,7) and that only by the Spirit of God can it be understood and appreciated. This explains why many of the humblest believers rejoice in the mystery and understand it so clearly, while so many great theologians and religious leaders fail to grasp it and keep confusing it with God’s prophesied program regarding the kingdom of Christ. The mystery is not “hard to be understood” because men are slow of mind to understand, but because they are “slow of heart to believe,” because the devil, who “hath blinded the minds of them that believe not” also seeks to keep God’s people from seeing and rejoicing in the truth of the mystery with its riches of grace, its “one body” and its “one baptism.” This is why the apostle prayed so fervently that the believers to whom he ministered might be given “spiritual understanding” to take in the glorious message he was commissioned to proclaim:

“[I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him:

“The eyes of your understanding [Lit., heart] being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling and…the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

“And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe…” (Eph. 1:16-19 cf. Col. 1:9,10,26-2:3).


As we bring this part of our study to a close, a few basic questions are in order.

If carnal Christians “walk as men” rather than as Christ, is the Church today mostly carnal or spiritual? If divisions among believers evidence carnality, is the Church today mostly carnal or spiritual? If the mystery revealed through Paul cannot be appreciated by carnal believers, but only by the spiritual, is the Church today mostly carnal or spiritual?

Here we must be careful, for the best of us must humbly acknowledge that we are as yet far from having attained to full spiritual maturity, and must say with Paul: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil. 3:12).

In the light of this shall we not join the apostle in prayer for ourselves and for the whole household of faith, and shall we not add hard work to earnest prayer, that we may indeed stand approved of God, workmen who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth?

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).


Since, as we have seen, an interest in the Word of God and an understanding of it are the first and surest signs of true spirituality, it is evident that the Bible will always have first place in the life of the spiritual Christian.

It is of utmost importance that we understand this, for some who feel themselves quite spiritual give much time to prayer, but little, if any, to the study of the Word. Such have actually fallen for the subtle trick of the adversary to play upon their natural human pride and cause them to exalt self and push God into the background.

In saying this we do not for one moment minimize the importance of prayer, as we will prove when we discuss the subject later on; we only stress the supreme importance of the holy Word of God. In this we are surely Scriptural, for David says, by inspiration:

“For thou hast magnified thy Word above all thy name” (Psa. 138:2).

Of those who would still object and place first emphasis upon prayer rather than upon the Word, we would ask one simple question: Which is the more important, what we have to say to God or what He has to say to us? There can be but one answer to this question, for obviously what God has to say to us is infinitely more important than anything we might have to say to Him. Our prayers are as fraught with failure as we are, but the Word of God is infallible, immutable and eternal.

Yet some, having fallen for one of Satan’s “devices” and feeling quite spiritual about it, are like the talkative person to whom one listens and listens, occasionally nodding his head, but receiving little or no opportunity to “get a word in edgewise.” They do all the talking; God does all the listening.

They expect God to pay close attention to their prayers, but show little interest in His Word.


The place of the Word in the life of the believer is settled once and for all in the inspired record of one of our Lord’s visits to the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Commentaries on this passage generally point out that both Mary and Martha had their good points! This, of course, is true, but if we limit ourselves to this observation we rob the account of its intended lesson, for our Lord did not commend both sisters for their “good points.” He reproved Martha and commended and defended Mary with regard to one particular matter.

What, exactly, was Mary commended for? How often she has been portrayed as an example to us to spend more time with the Lord in prayer! But this is missing the point of the passage again. Mary was not praying; she “sat at Jesus’ feet, and HEARD HIS WORD.” She just sat there, drinking in all He had to say. This was “the one essential thing” which Mary had “chosen” and which our Lord said was not to be “taken away from her.” Thus, while prayer and testimony and good works all have their importance in the life of the believer, hearing God’s Word is “the one essential thing” above all others. Indeed, let this “one thing” be given its rightful place and all the rest will follow naturally.

It is granted, of course, that we must even study the Word prayerfully and with open heart, or it will have disastrous, rather than beneficial results, but this only goes to place still further emphasis upon the supreme importance of the Word of God, which we seek, by sincere and prayerful study, to understand and obey.


It must not be supposed, however, that it is enough to use the Bible as a grand book of wonderful sayings from which we may choose what we wish for our inspiration, nor will one who truly realizes that “God hath spoken” ever hold so shallow an opinion of the sacred Scriptures.

“The Word of truth” must be “rightly divided”; for while it is all given for our spiritual profit, it was not all addressed to us, nor written about us. Thus one who truly desires to understand and obey God’s Word will seek first to determine what Scriptures are particularly related to him and will study all the rest in the light of these.

Sad to say, however, there are many who fail to give the Book of God the respect and reverence it deserves. They flip it open at random, let a finger light upon the open page and then read the verse indicated to see if perchance they may find leading from the Lord in that way. And if it doesn’t “work” the first time they try it again and again until it does “work.”

They use “promise boxes” in the same way, on the basis that “every promise in the Book is mine.” A mother begins her day by taking a promise out of the box. She reads: “Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day” (Psa. 91:5). Her brow, wrinkled in apprehension, she murmurs to herself: “Oh dear, I wonder what’s going to happen today!” After further reflection, however, she comforts herself as she remembers that the verse said: “Thou shalt not be afraid”!

They take passages out of their contexts, “spiritualize” them, and give them “private interpretations.” Finding “precious passages” anywhere at all, no matter to whom addressed or when or why, they place their own constructions upon them and claim them as promises of God to them!6 To take isolated statements from the writings of men and use them in such a manner would be considered dishonest, but even Bible teachers do it with the Word of God!

They say: “If it’s in the Bible I believe it!” while even the most superficial examination of the Bible will reveal that it records many lies of men and Satan, that much of it is not addressed to us but to those of other dispensations, and that therefore things commanded in one passage may be positively forbidden in another (E.g., Cf. Gen. 17:14 with Gal. 5:2).

The Word, rightly divided, is of supreme importance to the Church at large as well as to the individual believer, and it is because this fact has not yet been sufficiently recognized that we have not experienced the true, heaven-sent spiritual revival that the Church so sorely needs.

How much is said about “praying down” a revival; how little about the relation of Bible study to revival! In many cases the “revivalist” asks his hearers to raise their hands to indicate how many have spent one hour, one half-hour or fifteen minutes a day in prayer. But when has the reader last heard one inquire how many of his hearers have spent one hour, one half-hour or fifteen minutes a day in the study of God’s Word?


  1. In preaching the cross as good news, we do not, however, know Christ “after the flesh” (Cf. II Cor. 5:16; Heb. 2:9, and see the writer’s booklet: The Preaching of the Cross).
  2. This, of course, has to do with the believer’s experience. It does not mean that the saved may be lost again, but that as far as Christian experience is concerned, carnal mindedness brings death.
  3. Obviously this does not mean that the saved who indulge in these things are therefore lost, for God counts us as perfect in Christ (Eph. 1:6; Col. 2:10). After a similar list the apostle says to the failing Corinthian believers: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed…in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11). This is why we should desire with all our hearts to please and honor Him.
  4. As though Paul and Apollos were rivals.
  5. The phrase “past finding out” is the very same in the original as “unsearchable” in Ephesians 3:8, where the apostle has been unfolding the mystery of the Body of Christ.
  6. Some time ago the writer received a circular letter from a missionary in Africa, using the following Scripture passage as a heading: “And behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land” (Gen. 28:15). The body of the letter contained these words: “During this year of furlough we claim, and have claimed, the above promise….For us, `this land’ is Africa.” Clearly, the passage in Genesis records God’s promise to bring Jacob back to Canaan, not to bring a missionary back to Africa. The missionary may have felt that the promise applied to him in some way but in reality he was perverting the Word and claiming from God a promise which He had not made. See the author’s booklet entitled: Your Faith in God’s Word; Is it Superstitious or Intelligent?

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The Profit of Spiritual Gifts

(A message delivered June 20th, 2005, at the 39th annual Bible conference of the Berean Bible Fellowship in Cedar Lake, Indiana.)

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (I Cor. 12:1).

Many Christians are uncertain about the precise definition of a spiritual gift. A spiritual gift is a special talent or ability given to men that is separate and distinct from any natural talent or ability they may possess. That is, while we sometimes say that someone has “a gift for music,” this is not what the Bible means when it speaks of “spiritual gifts.”

To define “spiritual gifts,” we need to employ “the law of first mention,” the Bible study principle which states that the first Scriptural occurrence of a word, phrase or idea often defines the word, phrase or idea, and sets the tone for its use throughout Scripture. The first spiritual gift given was the gift of “tongues,” defined for us in Acts 2 as the ability to speak instantly and fluently in a known, identifiable language other than one’s native tongue (Acts 2:4-11). Thus while “a gifted musician” must work very hard to develop his gift, a spiritual gift is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that does not require any such development. It is this writer’s conviction that all of the spiritual gifts ceased with the completion of God’s Word, just as Paul predicted they would (I Cor. 13:8-10).

Paul begins his discussion of spiritual gifts with a seemingly unrelated observation:

“Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” (I Cor. 12:2).

Paul here reminds the Corinthians that they used to be idol-worshipping Gentiles who had a natural propensity to get “carried away” with their idolatry. While on the surface this might seem to have nothing to do with the subject at hand, Paul had observed that the Corinthians had made a god out of their spiritual gifts, and he is pointing out that they were now getting as “carried away” with their gifts as they used to get with their idols. Paul’s warning about this is timeless, for who can deny that even today there is still a tendency among at least some of our Pentecostal friends to get carried away with what they perceive to be their spiritual gifts.

But before we judge the Corinthians or our Pentecostal brethren too harshly, we must remember that Paul also warns us about “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). It is not inconceivable that believers who know better than to get carried away with any perceived spiritual gifts might instead be found rendering worship-like attention to “the almighty dollar” and all the material things it can buy. It would behoove each of us to examine our heart to see if we live in the “glass house” of covetousness before we consider throwing stones at Pentecostalists for their idolatrous adoration of imagined spiritual gifts.

“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 12:3).

This too is a puzzling statement in light of the context. Why would the Corinthians need to be told that no man speaking by the Spirit would call the Lord Jesus accursed? We believe that it was because of the convincing manner in which He was being called accursed. We believe He was being called accursed in tongues.

Satan is the great imitator of God, mimicking the Almighty on every hand. When God had prophets, Satan had “false prophets” (II Pet. 2:1). When God had apostles, Satan had “false apostles” (II Cor. 11:13). When God’s Spirit indwelt men and caused them to speak in tongues, Satan apparently countered by filling men with evil spirits who also spoke in tongues. These demoniacs spoke fluently and convincingly in foreign languages, but Paul here reminds the Corinthians that the content of their utterances would identify them as men who were speaking by a spirit other than the Spirit of God.

We do not wish to imply from this that the modern gift of tongues is Satanic; in fact, we believe quite the opposite. Since in this dispensation God has “ceased” from giving the gift of tongues, Satan is no longer trying to counterfeit this gift. Since no man today has the miraculous God-given ability to speak in a foreign tongue, Satan is not empowering anyone to do likewise. We believe that the gibberish that passes for the gift of tongues today is nothing more than the emotional product of the religious flesh of men.

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (I Cor. 12:4-6).

Did you notice that Paul here mentions each member of the Trinity? He says that spiritual gifts belong to the Spirit, they are administered by the Lord Jesus, but it is God the Father who works in the recipients of the gifts. Paul’s point here was to try to impress upon the Corinthians how the members of the Trinity worked together in glorious harmony in giving the gifts. This was in stark contrast to the discordant manner in which the Corinthians had received the gifts! There was anything but harmony in the selfish way they were glorying in their gifts or envying the gifts of others. Thus sin was taking the gifts that were designed by God to draw them closer together and using them to drive them further apart.

This is always the effect of sin on everything God gives to draw us closer together. Marriage, for instance, is surely designed by God to bring two people closer together, but every pastor who has done any marriage counseling knows how sin can instead cause marriage to drive two people apart. Human government is also devised by God to draw people together, but who can argue that some of the bloodiest wars that have ever been fought have been civil or revolutionary wars that have pitted brother against brother. Finally, the local church is surely designed by God to bring believers closer together, but we must sadly admit that some of the bitterest acrimony anywhere to be found is present in many a church split. The solution is for believers to give to one another the unconditional grace and acceptance that God extends to us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (I Cor. 12:7).

The gifts of the Spirit were given to “profit” them spiritually. But it must not be assumed that when God caused spiritual gifts to cease that He left the Body of Christ without a resource for our continued spiritual profit. In II Timothy 3:16, Paul tells us that “all Scripture…is profitable.” The “profit” afforded to the Corinthians by their spiritual gifts is now provided to believers by the Word of God. This is why the cessation of spiritual gifts coincided with the completion of the perfect Word of God.

We see a vivid illustration of this in the miraculous “pillar” that led Israel through the wilderness to the promised land. The pillar is last mentioned when they were camped within sight of Canaan. Having led them through the wilderness, it seemed that the purpose of the pillar had expired, and so it was of course withdrawn. However, can it really be said that the people of Israel no longer needed guidance from God as individuals and as a nation? Certainly not! This is why the pillar was not just withdrawn, it was replaced in a symbolic as well as a literal way by the Word of God. The pillar was last seen “over the door of the tabernacle” (Deut. 31:15). Nine verses later Moses “finished” the Book of the Law and put it inside the tabernacle in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31:24-26). From that time forward, the people of Israel no longer followed the supernatural pillar, but rather followed the ark which contained the Word of God to them through Moses. Wherever the ark moved, the people were to follow (Josh. 3:3,6,8,14-17). This was God’s symbolic way of teaching them that they would no longer be led by a supernatural manifestation, but instead by the written Word of God.

And so it is with the spiritual gifts. When God withdrew the spiritual gifts, He left us not without means of spiritual profit. He rather replaced the spiritual gifts with Paul’s epistles, the Word of God to us today. In the writings of Paul we find all we need to guide and “profit” us in the dispensation of Grace.

“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:8).

Some in Corinth were given a supernatural gift of wisdom, similar to that given to Solomon, but little evidence need be presented to prove that no man today has a supernatural gift of wisdom! But if believers today seeking wisdom cannot turn to a man endued with the gift of wisdom, where can they turn? To the Word of God! Paul says that “we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery” (I Cor. 2:7), and prayed that God would give unto us “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17).

This “spirit of wisdom” is given to us not to puff us up with knowledge, but so that we might do something with it. God gave select men in Israel “the spirit of wisdom” (Ex. 28:3) to assist them in designing Aaron’s garments, and building the tabernacle that was to be the dwelling place of God (Ex. 31:3ff). Similarly, God gives us the spirit of wisdom not to puff us up with pride but to build up the Body of Christ, the present dwelling place of God (I Cor. 3:17; I Tim. 3:15).

We must pause here in our examination of these individual gifts to submit that there is an order to the list of gifts as a whole. Paul begins with the spiritual gift that is of greatest esteem in God’s eyes, and ends with the gift that He esteemed least. That is, he begins with the gift of wisdom and ends with the gift of tongues (v. 10). But when Paul devotes an entire chapter to the Corinthian misuse of tongues (ch. 14), it is not difficult to conclude that the Corinthians had reversed this God-ordained order and had esteemed the gift of tongues above all others.

Incidentally, this helps us understand Paul’s peculiar statement in I Corinthians 6:4, where he tells the Corinthians that rather than taking one another to court they should “set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.” Far from instructing them to allow slow-witted or unspiritual men to settle their important disputes, Paul is rather reminding them that they had men with the gift of wisdom in their midst who could be called upon to resolve their legal disagreements. We know this because Paul goes on to say,

“I speak this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (I Cor. 6:5).

It was a “shame” that the men with the gift of wisdom were “least esteemed” among them, but it was a fact. It is likewise a shame that today the imitation gift of tongues is held in higher esteem than a knowledge of the “mystery, even the hidden wisdom” (I Cor. 2:7), but this too is a sad fact.

The next gift on Paul’s list is the gift of “knowledge” (I Cor. 12:7), and speaks of a knowledge of God’s Word. Thankfully, although the gift of knowledge has been withdrawn, a knowledge of God’s Word is still available to God’s people through diligent study of Scripture. However, if indeed this list is given in order of priority, it should be pointed out that knowledge here takes second place to wisdom in God’s eyes. Many Christians feel that knowledge of God’s Word is the pinnacle to which we should aspire, but in the mind of God wisdom, the application of Bible knowledge, is “the principal thing” (Prov. 4:7).

“To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:9).

The mountain-moving gift of faith of which Paul speaks here and in I Corinthians 13:2 reminds us of the mountain-moving kind of faith that the Lord said was needed to cast out devils (Matt. 17:18-20). Demon possession was still a problem around the time of the writing of I Corinthians (cf. Acts 19:15,16), and so the gift of faith enabled the Corinthians to cast out devils and serve the Lord in other ways that were specific to that day and time in God’s program. While there is no supernatural gift of faith available to men today, Paul says that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). In the measure that we study God’s Word and believe it, in that measure we will be able to serve God in ways that are specific to our day and time in God’s program, such as proclaiming His Word by faith (II Cor. 4:13) and using “the shield of faith” to quench “all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16).

The gift of “healing” enabled a man to heal “every one” who was sick (Acts 5:16). When the so-called “healers” of today cannot demonstrate this same complete mastery over disease, they force us to conclude that they do not have a God-given gift of healing.

However, there is a healing ministry in which our Lord was involved in which believers today can happily participate. We read that the Lord was sent to “heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18), and this is a ministry to which every believer should aspire. This writer recently officiated at the funeral of a Christian man who took his own life. We could sense that some of his mourners believed the old fable that suicides cannot go to heaven, and so naturally were brokenhearted at the loss of their loved one by his own hand. It was our privilege to heal the brokenhearted that day with the sound teaching of the eternal security of the believer (Rom. 8:35-39; II Tim. 2:13).

“To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues” (I Cor. 12:10).

A “miracle” in Scripture is a “wonder” or a “sign” (Acts 2:22), and miraculous signs belonged to Israel (Psa. 74:9). God taught Israel to “require” a sign (I Cor. 1:22), and then gave them plenty of signs to see over the many centuries in which He dealt with them as a nation. Now that God has set national Israel aside, the gift of miracles has been withdrawn.

For the reader who laments the loss of the gift of miracles, let’s look at some of the different ways that Paul uses the Greek word dunamis, here translated “miracles.” This word is translated “power” when Paul declares that “the gospel of Christ” is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). Hence believers today can still work the greatest miracle of all when they introduce a lost sinner to the Savior. Dunamis is also translated “power” when Paul prayed that the Romans might “abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:13). When a believer today is able to abound in hope, filled “with all joy and peace” despite the oftentimes overwhelming adversities and heartaches of life, that’s a miracle! Lastly, Paul tells us of how the Macedonians contributed financially to the Lord’s work “beyond their power” (II Cor. 8:3). This begs the question, if they gave beyond their power, whose power prompted them to give so wonderfully yet so inexplicably? We submit that only the miracle-working power of God can cause believers to give out of “deep poverty” unto rich liberality. As you can see, God’s miracle-working power today is centered in the heart and mind of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, as he implements the Word of God into the very fabric of the details of his life.

“Prophecy” is the ability to speak authoritatively for God, and often involved predicting the future, a gift that passed with the completion of the Scriptures. Today God speaks only through His Word, and we can speak for Him and prophesy future events only as we teach His Word. But while the gift of prophecy has passed, there are still a number of predictions that we can make based on the principles of the Word of God. For instance, we can still predict the activities of the adversary, based on his modus operandi, his method of operation as exhibited in Scripture. We can foretell that He will continue to cause the believer to question God’s Word, as he did with Eve (Gen. 3:1). He even tried this tactic on the Lord Himself. When at our Lord’s baptism His Father declared, “This is My beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17), Satan immediately sought to cause Him to doubt God’s Word, saying, “If Thou be the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3,6). And so a man need not be a prophet to predict that our adversary will continue to employ the tried and true method of attack that he has utilized for six thousand years, and to be forewarned about this is to be forearmed.

When Paul describes the gift of “discerning of spirits,” he uses a Greek word that is also used in I Corinthians 14:29, where he instructs them to “judge” the prophets, that is, discern whether they were speaking by the Holy Spirit or by some other spirit. Not all false prophets ran around calling the Lord Jesus accursed, and the gift of discernment was vital to detect more subtle false prophets. But once again, though the gift of discernment has passed, with the Word of God the believer today is completely equipped to discern the spirit behind all who claim to speak for God.

Next comes the gift of tongues. Believers today do not have the miraculous power to speak in the different languages of “men of other tongues” (I Cor. 14:21), as the gift of tongues has been withdrawn. But for any who sigh for the power to speak in tongues, we would invite you to consider that it is still possible for us to speak clearly to men of all languages. We are told that there are certain universal languages that transcend all human tongues, such as music and mathematics, whose notes and figures are the same in all cultures. In a similar fashion, when a child of God displays acts of kindness, or love, or forgiveness, our meaning is readily understood by men of all tongues, and we should be forward to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” in all of these things (Titus 2:10).

Similarly, while the gift of “interpretation of tongues” is long gone, with a little practice we can learn to interpret the meaning of the words of others. Every parent knows that when a child says, “I hate math,” what he is really saying is, “I don’t understand math.” Oh, that we might learn that when someone at church says something hurtful to us, that perhaps all they are saying is, “I’m not feeling well today.” If we could only learn to interpret such snubs as perhaps expressions of, “I’m going through a rough time right now.” When once a man in our assembly expressed bewilderment over what he perceived to be the belligerence of another, I knew the cause. As his pastor, I knew that the man’s wife was divorcing him, perhaps prompting him to speak in a way that was out of character for this dear saint, which led to the quarrel. We may not have the gift of interpretation of tongues, but we can and should learn to listen to the words of others with understanding, “forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).

Paul concludes his list of spiritual gifts with the addition of a few more at the end of I Corinthians 12. Of these, we will conclude this message with the gift of “helps” (v. 28). Just prior to Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27, the sailors “used helps, undergirding the ship” (v. 17). We are told that this is a reference to how ancient mariners in threatening seas would rush to the bow of the ship and lower ropes or chains around the fragile vessel and cinch them up tightly to prevent it from breaking apart in the raging sea. It is our blessed privilege as members of the Body of Christ to act in a similar way when our brethren in Christ are struggling through the storms of life. May each and every mature saint be willing to rush to the side of his struggling brother and undergird him with the strength of God’s Word rightly divided, and share with him the compassion that we ourselves receive from the Lord (II Cor. 1:4).

Yes, the spiritual gifts are gone, but it is a blessed truth that God has replaced them with His Word, equipping us therewith with everything we need to fully function as men and women of God in the dispensation of grace. How wonderful to know that the profit of spiritual gifts is still available to the believer who studies to show himself approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of truth.

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Berean Searchlight – December 2005

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