Q06 for Bryan: How can I obey that command?

In Q1, you said plainly that you can’t imagine any other answer than that the Apostolic Gifts are necessary for the life of the church.  I can imagine 2 other answers immediately: (1) They are not necessary, but they are useful for [insert list here], and (2) They are not necessary, but they have helped me personally grow closer to God.

Your response is that the Apostolic Gifts are necessary because they are commanded.  I am in favor of carrying out the commands of God.  For example, God gives us the command to be wise, and gives us the book of Proverbs to understand what wisdom looks like.  God commands us to be chaste and gives us both the Law and the implications of the Gospel to explain what sexual purity looks like (for example, Eph 5, 1 Cor 5-6-7, Rom 1, Lev 18).

Even though Carson rejects your view that Paul is issuing a command in 1 Cor 14, let’s assume it is a command.  Where do the implications of this command get worked out in either the OT or the NT? Asked another way, how will I know that I am obeying God in the use of the so-called Spiritual Gifts?

I'd like to answer your question in three parts: One,address briefly whether or not Paul is issuing a command...I'd rather not just assume it. Two, give a few reasons why the gifts are necessary. Three, provide some thoughts on how to obey this command.

Is Paul issuing a command? 

For sure I did say that I can't imagine why Paul would command us (really the Holy Spirit through Paul) to earnestly desire certain gifts for the building up of the church, if they weren't necessary. The language and repetition used is strong, it's hard to imagine Paul's original readers having a discussion on whether or not earnestly desiring prophecy is necessary for the building up of the body of Christ after Paul repeated himself three times to earnestly desire the gifts and specifically that gift. If it isn't a command, what kind of strong exhortation is it? Certainly what Paul said (whether command or optional but weighty exhortation) warrants a different response than trying to dismiss what he did exhort us to do with appeals to... what?... Benny Hinn? Seriously, I'm beginning to wonder who's really empowering Benny Hinn-- the continuationists who you say are giving him incidental credibility simply because of what they believe or hard cessationists who with all their boasting about wisdom, discernment and Sola Scriptura, when it comes to this text would rather let Benny Hinn speak louder than the Holy Spirit and Paul, and then unabashedly call pretty much everything the Holy Spirit does that makes them uncomfortable, a demonic counterfeit.         

The argument that earnestly desiring the gifts is a command is not the only reason I'd give for concluding that the gifts are necessary (more on this in a minute).  However, I think it's clear that we are commanded. Sam Storms has a post on this worth reading before you continue to read here. Taking your word for it, as far as D.A. Carson's view that earnestly desiring gifts isn't commanded, I don't know what to say except that I respectfully disagree. Sorry D.A., I like your accent and all, but I'm just a concrete floor guy from Arkansas who spent some time in Recovery and hasn't read your book, but even I know your conclusion, at least on the surface level, isn't exactly what should be called exegetical sobriety. Given his theological pedigree, that statement probably is more brass than brain, but perhaps a few observations below can prove otherwise, even if just a little. 

If Paul wanted to clarify that these things he was writing weren't clear commands of the Lord in his mind, he could have done so with language like he employed in I Corinthians 7:6,12, 25. Instead, in I Corinthians 14:37 he chooses to make it clear that the things he is writing are a command of the Lord just before his last exhortation of three to earnestly desire to prophesy and clear imperative to not forbid speaking in tongues.  If any of his exhortations in this context were not commands and could be viewed and relegated to mere-good-actions-if-you-want-to, it would not be consistent with the overall force of the passage or with his pattern of carefully clarifying what is or isn't a command from the Lord if indeed it were questionable. Furthermore, what do we think Paul personally expected of those who read his letter or heard it?

In addition, Pursue Love seems to be a pretty clear command. Would you argue that it isn't?  So what does a suitor do if he earnestly desires a young woman and the gift (grace) of marriage? Does he not pursue her and marriage? Does he not pray for her? Does he not give her some serious attention? Does he not annoyingly ask, seek, and knock persistently if he needs to? Does he wait to pursue the woman and marriage until he's mature in love, or does it take the woman and marriage to mature him? Oh I'm trailing off, but look, the point is that pursue love and earnestly desire go together in thought in this passage, it seems silly to argue and conclude that it says Pursue Love, not necessarily Pursue the gifts, therefore, earnestly desire is not really a command on the same level. Sounds a little stretchy sketchy. After all,what do we call a guy who eagerly desires a woman, but never really gets around to pursuing her? 

A few reasons why the gifts are necessary for the life of the church:

1. D.A. Carson does however view the perfect and face to face  in I Corinthians 13: 10-12 to be the return of Christ, right? The question I have for those that will concede that this passage refers to the time when the church will see Christ face to face and that that is when the gifts will cease, is, what is it then about Christ's return that will render these gifts useless? In other words, what purpose and function are these gifts serving and providing that only seeing Christ face to face will put an end to? I submit to you that these gifts purpose and essential function are to increasingly (the more we build up) manifest the Presence of Jesus in and through the church (The Body of Christ) by the Spirit to continue to advance the already but not yet Kingdom of God over against the Kingdom of Darkness. And this involves all the gifts the Holy Spirit sovereignly chooses to give.  

2.  The gifts are necessary in order to keep us interdependent and together dependent on the Holy Spirit to carry out our mission as the Body of Christ--mainly to re-present the ministry of Christ and advance His Kingdom. No one person has them all. The gifts are essential in discipleship and an essential component of manifesting the Kingdom of God. The point of Paul's body metaphor (for that matter all of I Corinthians 12) doesn't quite make sense if the gifts aren't necessary for the life of the Church. It would be like saying you're okay that the Body of Christ has everything but its feet or arms, pinky toe, or maybe even just a head. But I think a good look at the state of the overly institutional expression of the church reveals there needs to be a recovery of what it looks like for Christ to be Head of His church and for each member to come with something to give (manifestation for the common good; building up; ministry) rather than to just consume one man's teaching gift. Our maturity in Christ and maturity in love are dependent on it (Ephesians 4:1-16). That's a big controversial convo in itself but still in my opinion points to the necessity of all the gifts, especially in the mind of Paul. 

3. The gifts are necessary for engaging in spiritual warfare. There is too much on this point to discuss here considering I'm way over my word limit, but the reality is that we have a defeated yet still formidable and crafty enemy. Discovering how the gifts serve an essential/necessary function in advancing the Kingdom of God over the Kingdom of Darkness should be enough in itself to convince anyone of the necessity of the gifts. To neglect to seriously consider the vast practical evidence for this is unwise.

So, your question: How do you obey this command and how do you know that you are obeying God in the use of the so-called Spiritual Gifts? 

The specific command we are discussing is I Corinthians 14:1--"Pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy."

1. To pursue love and eagerly desire obviously involves the emotions and actions. I guess you could either argue that since these involve the emotions and emotions can't be commanded, then these can't be commands. Or, you could consider John Piper's writings on Christian Hedonism which in essence teach that in the Bible the pursuit of pleasure or happiness and pursuit of God aren't at odds with one another...namely because scripture commands us to be happy in God. That is, God can command emotions and require things of us that we can't turn on and off like a faucet, and that built in to the priority of simple obedience to God is obedience to the commands in scripture for us to find our Joy and happiness in Him--that is, heart realities rather than mere actions that we feel we have very little if any control over. In fact, Piper wrote a book called, "When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy" for those of us who want our joy to be in God but still in our day to day find more comfort in a cup of coffee.  I could see him writing a sequel, "When I Don't Desire Spiritual Gifts: How to Pursue Love, Prophecy and Occasionally Tongues ". So, all of that to say, I think there are both inward and outward evidences that indicate you're being obedient to the Spirit's command here...and certainly whether or not we are pursuing love and earnestly seeking these gifts can be evidenced both in passion and practice.

2. I've already mentioned a few things practically in a previous post so I won't repeat them here. Ultimately, I think obedience to this command encompasses believing, desiring, asking, seeking, knocking, and trusting, as a son. In our first posts on this blog, I mentioned the importance of identity and our unity as sons (Romans 8:14-16, Galatians 4:5-6). The reason our identity as sons is crucial is because it gets to the heart of our confidence in the security of our intimate relationship with the Father and trust in His goodness. No other passage in Scripture in my opinion best describes where our heart should be on this issue than all of Luke 11.

I can't go in to all of it, but the portion that strikes me as most applicable to what we're discussing here is: (italics and bold all mine) "What Father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Notice, the son asks for things that nourish his body...he's hungry. What father (though we're evil) would then give him something that would strike and poison him? What is significant is that one chapter before this passage, you read Jesus say to the Seventy-Two, "Behold I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you."

 I think the idea the passage is communicating to us is that if we, His sons, ask our Heavenly Father persistently for something or gifts that are designed to be nourishing (namely the gift of the Holy Spirit here), we can trust His heart and that He surely won't give us something hurtful, evil, or demonic. He's not going to give us the very opposite of what we are asking for. In fact, that would be impossible for Him to do so, because of who He is, and whose we are.

At the heart of earnestly desiring spiritual gifts (manifestations of the Spirit Himself) is childlike trust in our Heavenly Father, that when we ask for gifts that nourish/build up the Body of Christ, he for sure won't give us things that are harmful. So we can ask, seek, and knock (earnestly desire) without fear. We can put our confidence in the goodness of the Father rather than the power of the enemy to deceive us, after all, we too have been given authority in Christ to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy anyways. 

It may be hard to believe, but perhaps there is, ironically, much more to submitting to the Lordship of Christ and true discipleship than even the Macarthur camp is comfortable accepting, but who is rather, in this case, strangely at peace with mocking and denying.  

Endnote from Frank: one of the premises/agreements Bryan and I made when we started this exchange is that there was a word count limit for these posts -- 750 words.