Understanding the Gifts Part 1 – From Babel to Pentecost…


Scripture (s):

  • Genesis 11 – Tower of Babel.

  • Acts 2 – Pentecost.

  • Acts 10 – Cornelius.

  • Acts 15 – Council of Jerusalem.

Several other small scriptures supporting the above texts.

Question being asked:

“What does the Tower of Babel and the Day of Pentecost teach us about the purpose of the Gifts?”

Truths:

  1. As Babel was a miracle of tongues with a purpose, so too is Pentecost. Understanding their purpose gives us clear definition as to their purpose.

  2. If the modern gift of tongues behaves more like Babel is it really a gift at all.

  3. By focusing on this one gift we can see the purpose and usage of all gifts, and find the exhortation and the warning for all gifts in this one examination.

Introduction:

In our introduction to our small series on the gifts I would like to cover several things over the next three weeks:

  1. Today, looking at tongues to establish the purpose of all the gifts. To also clarify when the church fails to understand the purpose of the gifts in the current age.

  2. Next week, we look at the gifts and what they are as listed in 1 Corinthians (and elsewhere), and then see a deeper understanding of what they look like today.

  3. On the third week leave us with the following equation “? + Christ = idolatry”. We are going to look at the extreme consequence of not having a solid theology on the gifts and how they operate. Also, asking the question is the Church of the 1st Century still the church of the 21st Century?

With this in mind I would like to give you the question I would like to answer in today’s lesson:

“What does the Tower of Babel and the day of Pentecost teach us about the purpose of the gifts?”

For me to accomplish this we will be skimming over a number of scriptures I have included in the newsletter notes. This is a topical lesson and so I hope you will take time this week reviewing the notes I give you, and the notes you take, to help you get to grips with this subject.

Point 1: Babel – the gift of tongues.

Context:

  • Genesis 3 “The Fall” – the personalised sin of Adam and Eve and its impact on all humanity.

  • Genesis 4 “Cain kills his brother Abel” – the relational/inter-personal impact of sin on humanity.

  • Genesis 5 – 8 “Noah and the flood” – The breadth of sin spreading to people morally.

  • Genesis 9 “God’s covenant with Noah.”

  • Genesis 10 “The growth of the tribes and spread of humanity.

  • Genesis 11 “The Tower of Babel” – the State and sin.

If we learn something from this short overview we learn that humanity as an individual, social and political person has a predilection towards sin. By the time Babel comes on the scene we see the influence of sin at every level of human influence, and here we have the State; the economics, the rulers, the civil, the religious and the legislative powers of society all agreeing to build a tower to “deify” humanity.

What does the word “predilection” mean?

The word comes from the 18th Century which means to have a preference towards something, a fondness and desire to do it even before the opportunity exists to be able too.

In our lesson, it means to be predisposed towards sin even before the opportunity avails itself. Humanity in its nature leans towards rebellion against God, idolatry (even self-worship) and selfish desires at the expense of others.

It shows itself in so many ways. Let me give you several ways I notice it in my life and others:

  • We blame others for our issues.

  • We think about what we can get from our relationships before we ask what are we giving to others without expectation.

  • We get angry when others fail us, but demand mercy and forgiveness instantly when we do wrong. That is if we even admit doing it.

  • We use our words quicker to tear down than build up.

  • We worship ourselves before God by not committing ourselves to know God, and understand His word.

I am sure we could all come up with other examples, but this gives us the subtlety of the “predilection” towards sin working in humanity.

With this in mind let’s look at the story of Babel quickly:

Humanity had spread eastward towards the Persian Gulf. This was very fertile land, well-watered and capable of sustaining larger populations. The only issue was the lack of stones and rocks to build large scale building projects.

This requires humans to develop new technology which we see in our story where they developed use of technology to make bricks, and use a tar like substance to hold them in place.

In Genesis 11:1 – 9 we have the story told. Humanity, through the influence of the state and rulers, had come to a point where they had collectively gained strength and a confidence never experienced in human society before – and how did they express it?

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…” (v 4)

This idea of making a name for ourselves can equally be translated “that we might be famous and respected like God”.

Like Eve, Adam and Lucifer humanity even in its State and corporate nature desires to be like God, to worship self and our achievements.

God, who knew such a venture would lead humanity towards evil as in the days of Noah but on a grander scale, stepped in and performed a miracle. The gift of tongues.

“Come, let US go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

With this miracle of tongues (Languages) God allowed humanity to pull away from great evil. God spears humanity for another judgement far worse than dispersion and nationhood. Humans from this time forward would spend their time arguing, fighting and manipulating each other at the state level.

What, therefore, do the events too Babel teach us?

  1. Humanity has a conscious and subconscious predilection towards sin.

  2. At times God steps in to bring “confusion” to humanity to stop a greater evil impacting on humanity.

  3. God chose Language to separate people – Language became a symbol of disunity and separation. Nationhood is part of the outworking of this judgement.

  4. In a very real sense “tongues” was a miracle at Babel – one that was instant, confusing and created new nations from this miracle

Point 2: The lesson from Pentecost.

Now, we find ourselves at Pentecost, where the miracle of Babel is reversed in the new Church, and unity in Jesus Christ births a new “nationhood” in faith.

Acts 2:1 – 4; 11-12. The promised day of the churches birth had arrived, and the believers were gathered together to pray and seek God. As they did this strange event happened as God’s Spirit came down upon them, just as He did at Babel.

This time it was not the burning bush of Moses, but the flames of fire that sat upon them as God spoke anew to a people – a new holy ground now appeared before His people, the holy Church – the Body of Jesus Christ, was now birthed in humanity and in time.

This new “Nation” in God began to speak anew – as did Babel of old. But this time it caused unity, enquiry and glorified God. Confusion gave way to declaration.

Strangers were brought close as they heard the new church “declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues.” They were amazed and perplexed, just as they were back in Babel.

But now for a different reason – because they could understand, they could engage and they could be involved in what God was doing here.

What do we learn from Pentecost?

  1. This is the birth of the Church (a new nationhood in Jesus Christ).

  2. The miracle of Tongues is used to bring unity.

  3. The gift of tongues is used to remove chaos.

  4. The gift of tongues was used to declare the wonders of God. (v.11)

  5. The miracle birthed an age of new unity in Christ.

(Tongues = Unity in Christ.)

Point 3: The flow on effects.

The consequences of Pentecost flowed out bringing more unity, just as the reversed consequences flowed from babel causing confusion and disunity).

In Acts 10 we hear of a Gentile man, a roman soldier, a wealthy and powerful man who had a devotion to God in some way coming to faith. God visits Him in a vision and tells him to call for Peter, who comes to him and shares the faith with him. Cornelius and his household receives Jesus as Lord.

How does God evidence His acceptance of the gentiles?

“…the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message…” Just like Babel and Pentecost.

All who were present “… heard them speaking in tongues and praising God…” as in Pentecost.

And what was the result of this? “…no one can stand in the way…” of their acceptance into this new nation in Jesus Christ.

In Acts 15 we visit the first council of the Church in Jerusalem and see how the miracle of “tongues” effected one of the most important decisions made by the Church – what to do with these none Jewish believers. Peter, the one who lead Cornelius and his household to faith speaks up and tells the council what he believes to be the way forward.

“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did us.” (Verse 8)

Who could oppose such logic and such evidence – the council agreed and from that point on Christianity would be a faith of all nations, all people, all creeds and all status of society. All the “whosoever’s” in the world would be accepted into the Church as one nation in Christ.

What happened at Babel is reversed in Acts:

  1. Humanity now is exposed to a new thing where God’s Spirit transforms the heart towards godliness. The power of Sin is broken by Jesus Christ, and this draws people of all nations to Him.

  2. A new Nation is birthed in Jesus Christ – one born not by human effort, but by the grace of God. Not the bricks and mortar of Babel (humanity), but the work of God’s Spirit within people.

  3. God chooses to use language (Tongues) to unit and proclaim His word to humanity.

  4. The miracle of tongues begun at Babel now is reversed in the miracle of Pentecost – we have a new tongue found in Jesus Christ, one of Love, Faith, Truth and Hope in Jesus Christ. One caught in the words of the Scriptures for all people everywhere.

The theological implications of all this finds its way in the New Testament through the writings of the apostles to us, the Church. A theological reality skipped over by the church today as it privatises itself, and separates itself from the original intentions of the word.

First, let me say something that seems small, but is really important in the church for today. Just as Babel with a social event, so too was Pentecost, the conversion of the Gentiles and the ministry of our Lord. Today we do much behind closed doors hidden from the eyes of society – pretending that we are somehow more special.

Much that happens in the modern Pentecostal church, and the NAR streams of modern faith, need to be kept behind closed doors as it would bring shame and embarrassment to Christ. If the true gift of tongues were active today as these streams claim, then it would function as it did in the first century in public where the person from India, Russia, Germany, Spain, Iran and Japan would hear in their own language the church proclaiming glory to God, and in amazement coming to faith. But, much of the tongues that is spoken in the church today is more like Babel, causing confusion and disunity with society and the stranger on the street.

Secondly, if tongues are an analogy an example of how all the gifts ought to function then we ought to expect God to be glorified and people united in Jesus Christ who hold faith in him.

The Gifts therefore evidences a theological reality expressed by both Peter and Paul:

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NIV) 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Galatians 3:28 -29 (NIV) 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

The use of Gifts, therefore, is not for privatized usage and self-glorification (the problem of Babel), they are for:

  • Declaring the good news of Jesus Christ.

  • Unity.

  • Glorifying God.

  • Empowering people to move from sin towards godliness.

  • Building God’s nation towards The Kingdom of God.

  • And this is found in the Place of Pentecost.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV) “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

In all we do, and in everything we claim to have, it all must exist for the building up of our community of faith – you and I must be mutually concerned for each other’s growth and wellbeing.

Our success is not buildings (bricks or mortar), collection plate, bums on seat or popularity within the “trendy church polls”. It is solely measured by God as making mature Christians engaging in a mature way into the world we are called to serve in – if we do not engage in society we are neither the example of Jesus, nor the experience of the new church.

If we claim to have a gift and it fails to do this is it really a gift from God, or a Babel tower we are building for our own pride and selfish promotion?

Finally, as Peter puts it “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).

Are we faithful stewards of all God has given us, or is it all about self-service?

If we are only seeking selfish agendas then like Babel we will only produce confusion as each person seeks only what is good for them, pulling in all directions, but always pulling away from our Centre – Jesus our head.

Conclusion:

Our question for tonight:

What Does the Tower of Babel and the day of Pentecost teach us about the purpose of the gifts?

We are either involved in erecting a building that is in the image of Babel – self-interest, self-worship and self-importance. Or, we are involved with our Lord in building a sacred “temple” of mature, serving and determined people. A “church” that reflects the ideals of real Christian Community.

Such gifts in many churches are nothing more than Babel – human effort, human bricks and mortar and in my opinion charades and shams. Why?

If they were really gifts from God they would reflect Pentecost – unity, maturity and glorifying of God affecting society and proclaiming the Lord wherever we go. Gifts exist for the sake of the whole not the individual. Gifts are for community not privatised toys to be brought out at our selfish convenience and to stroke our self-esteem.

We have to ask the hard question today that faces the weakened church:

“Are we reflective of Babel or Pentecost – are we human effort leading to confusion and evil, or are we Pentecost glorifying God and impacting the society we live in?”


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