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I’ve been thinking (and blogging) on what it means to live anchored in the Word of God, committed to the glory of God, delighted in Jesus, and engaged in a life that overflows with evidence of the Spirit’s presence. It seems to me that there is a great deal of wrestling in the larger community of followers of Jesus as to just what to do with “signs” of the Spirit.

Some insist that there were things that happened back in “the early days” that just aren’t supposed to happen any more. Others insist that exactly what happened to a few in those opening moments of the life of the church is supposed to happen in the same identical way for every follower of Jesus today. Although the proponents are at opposite ends of the spectrum, both groups seem to be insistent that they have rightly concluded exactly how the sovereign Spirit of God can carry out his intentions in our lives. I am reluctant to agree with either group.

Let me touch on some my reservations about the “back in the ‘early days’ only” group first.

It seems to me that the community of faith described in the New Testament was filled with people through whom Jesus extended his life and ministry in a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence and power. There was variety and spontaneity and freedom and life coupled with responsibility and edification and sound Bible-anchored teaching. But there was something–a manifest, demonstrative presence–that characterized those followers of Jesus. (Evident in passages like Mark 16:15-20; Acts 2:41-43; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Galatians 3:5.)

Once the idea is raised that there might rightly be “signs” of the Spirit in the midst of the community of the believing, a challenge is often raised,  drawing on what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

Is Paul denigrating signs (works of the Spirit evident in the lives of the believing)? Some insist this is the case. However, there are a few reasons that this argument falls short.

1. Paul insisted that he proclaimed the Gospel in conjunction with a ministry that includes miraculous signs. In his letter to the Romans (a letter he wrote while in Corinth!), Paul explained:

For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:18-19)

2. Paul affirmed, in his subsequent letter to the Corinthians, that his preaching of the Gospel included an active ministry of signs, wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12). It is unlikely that Paul was dismissing, in total, a ministry that included signs and miracles in 1 Corinthians only to defend his own ministry as one that included signs and miracles in 2 Corinthians.

3. If the argument is made that because Jews “seek for signs” then we the believing community should never exercise a ministry of miraculous signs, we would also have to conclude that since Greeks “seek for wisdom” then the believing community should never exercise wisdom in proclaiming the Gospel. But no one concludes that Paul is denigrating all wisdom–only wisdom wrongly approached by the Greeks. So, Paul is not dismissing all signs, only that approach to signs adopted by the Jews who were opponents to the Gospel. In the context of 1 Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that there is a place for appropriate Godly wisdom. It would seem reasonable hat there would also be a place for appropriate Godly signs.

So what can we conclude?

In 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 Paul cannot be insisting that signs and wisdom are wholly inappropriate or invalid. He is arguing that the Jewish perspective on signs is a wrong and the Greek pursuit of wisdom is misguided. Signs for signs’ sake and wisdom for wisdom’s sake will not save; the Gospel cannot be bartered for on our terms. The Gospel alone saves. So Paul is resisting a certain perspective on signs and a certain view of wisdom. And with that, we could all agree.

What I cannot agree with is that 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 means that followers of Jesus are misguided if they anticipate that God will glorify his Son Jesus by extending his hand, by the Spirit, through the saints, to bring about a ministry that includes signs and wonders and miracles. (See the prayer of the church in Acts 2:39-41 and God’s answer to that prayer for a healthy paradigm touching on these issues.)

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