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1 Corinthians 12:4-7 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 6 mins 4 secs

Dangerous Backgrounds; 1Co 12:4-7


In verse 2 we read: "You know that when you were pagans, {you were} led astray to the mute idols, however you were led." There Paul is setting up the basic problem that occurs not only in Corinth but it occurs a century later in New Testament church in the second century. It occurs periodically throughout in different manifestations throughout church history and it occurs again today. That is the problem of Christians who take with them all this baggage—intellectual baggage, religious baggage—from their pagan, unbelieving background and they bring that with them into Christianity and start interpreting the Scripture in light of that frame of reference. Again and again it has been pointed out that when we are engaged in the process of Romans 12:2, to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our thinking, that that means that we just have to tear down that whole thought process that characterized our life as an unbeliever. This was the problem in Corinth. They failed to do that and they were still being heavily influenced by the religious systems that they had come out of. There were two areas of influence. One was the philosophical influence, and in their day this was a problem with the Stoic and the Epicureans. But there were also various problems that were residual effects in the culture that went back to Platonism and Aristotilianism. On the other side there was the influence of their religions, and specifically here we are talking about a set of religions known as mystery religions. In the mystery religions there was a heavy influence on emotions, on ecstatics, on certain kinds of music which served a religious purpose. They wanted to have a religion that made them feel good. There was no rational content to it at all. Religion was something that deadened the pain and the misery of having to deal with a life where there was no meaning, no hope and no values.

In the ancient world there were four mystery religions that were the most influential on the Corinthians. The first had to do with the worship of Apollo. At the temple of Delphi in Corinth there was a priestess to Apollo that occupied the chair there and she was called the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle at Delphi was said to be possessed by the spirit of the python, and it was this spirit that spoke through the Oracle. She would speak in ecstatic utterances—gibberish. These were meaningless utterances but they were allegedly the god Apollo speaking through her. This was something that everybody accepted and believed to be true. According to the mythology, this python that guarded the Oracle at Delphi, is killed by Apollo and established his own worship at that particular location. The prophetess, known as Pythia, utters these sayings in these miraculous languages. We have this quote preserved for us in history from Chrysostom, who was one of the early church fathers who lived from 347 AD to 407 AD, which describes what went on at the Oracle of Delphi. "This same pythoness, then, is said to sit at times upon the tripod of Apollo of Apollo astride, and this the evil spirit ascending from beneath and entering the lower part of her body fills the woman with madness, and she with dishevelled hair begins to play the [ ? ] and to foam at the mouth, and thus being in a frenzy, to utter the words of her madness." Apollos was also related to a second character, and that is Dionysus, also known as Bacchus. Dionysus was the god of wine and he had a major impact on mystery religions.

There was an entire cult just devoted to Dyonisius. He had his origin over in Phrygia. It was one of the most dynamic of the mystery religions. It was primarily focussed on women, and when they would go up at night into these groves, sacred areas where they would worship, there would be the beat of the drums, they would play flutes, dance in these wild ecstatic dances until they go all worked up, and they were drinking an enormous amount of wine. In some accounts, in earlier times they would take animals and just rip them apart, limb from limb, and eat the raw flesh. Then at the height of this the god Dionysus would, if they were lucky, inhabit them, possess them, and speak through them in ecstatic utterances. The counterfeit idea is obvious when we start thinking about the Corinthians background in tongues and what was going on there. Dionysus was also associated with a third group, the Sibylli-Atis cult. Sibylli is the mother earth goddess, and she gives birth to Atis. This is a Satanic counterfeit of the virgin birth idea. It involved a lot of ideas that Satan was using to counterfeit Christianity. In their rites the priests would get everybody excited, working everybody up, using cymbals, drums and loud gongs; something like Paul refers to in 13:1: NASB "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." That is where he is getting that imagery. So they were a Satanic counterfeit that would promote a level of spirituality. What people were concerned about was salvation. They wanted to have some sense of relationship and unity with God, and if they would come into this kind of a unity with God then life would be wonderful. So their criterion for measuring their relationship with God was all based on emotion and ecstatics.

From "The Greeks and their Gods" by W. K. C. Jeffrey. Dionysus was referred to as the god of ecstasy. He writes, describing their worship: "Clad in fawn skins and taking in their hands the thrissos (a long rod tipped with a bunch of ivy or vine leaves), the god's own potent emblem, and with ivy wreaths upon their heads they followed their leader to the wildest parts of the mountains lost in the bliss of the dance. Many carry snakes, wreathed about them, twined in their hair, grasped in the hand, as may be seen on vase painting. Their dance is accompanied and their passions aroused by the heavy beat of the tympanum (drum) and the strains of the reed flute, as well as their own excited shouts and cries. Nothing is lacking which can serve to increase the sense of exultation and the shedding the self of everyday existence. To darkness, the music, and the rhythmic dances are added the smoky light of torches and, no doubt, the god's special gift of wine." So they really had a party, but the whole idea was just to get them away from thought and thinking and everyday existence into this non-thinking emotional state. He says, "Of wine it may indeed be said that little would be needed in combination with the other elements to produce the final state of ecstasy, meaning [Greek] standing outside of one's self, and enthusiasmos [in English enthusiasm used to refer to emotions]. In this state the worshipper saw visions, nothing was impossible to them. The ground flowsed with milk, wine and honey, endowed with superhuman strength they hurled themselves upon animals, wild or tame, tearing them to pieces with their bare hands, and for the joy of the raw feast, charged with divine power, their thrissos become deadly weapons that can put armed men to flight. They carry fire on their heads and are not burned." 

That is what the Greeks though of religion before Paul showed up and gave them the gospel. This is what they brought with them when they came over into Christianity and began to confuse various spiritual gifts with what they had experienced in their mystery religions. This is all part of the subtle deception of Satan that he uses to destroy mankind and distract them from the worship of God.

Ecstasy: Every now and then we may hear someone say that God will use ecstasy in the Millennium. Ecstasy is an emotional state. It is a non-rational condition where the reason is totally removed from the scenario. We need to look at Joel chapter two. The context of the chapter is very important. If we are going to properly understand Joel 2 before any allusion to it in the New Testament we have to know what is going on in Joel. Joel is describing the Tribulation under the nomenclature of the day of the Lord, and he is describing what is going to take place at the end of the Tribulation period. He describes the fact that during this time, despite all of the horrors that take place, Israel will turn back to God.

Joel 2:18 NASB "Then the LORD will be zealous for His land And will have pity on His people. [19] The LORD will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied {in full} with them; And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations." Has that happened yet? No, Israel is still a mill stone and a reproach to the nations. So v. 19 indicates what God is going to do to regenerate Israel at the end of the Tribulation. So that sets our time frame. 

Joel 2:28 NASB  "It will come about after this [After the end of the Tribulation] That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind…" Is the Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh now? No, only on believers. We are still in the church age. "And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. [29] Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days." These are three activities that were not unknown in the Old Testament: prophecy, dreams and visions.

When you read Isaiah, Joel, Amos, do you think their mind was disengaged? They were very rational. Even though they may have been unconscious, asleep, or having a dream, their mind was active. Read in Daniel 5 and 7. When Daniel is having the dream an angel appears to him and speaks to him, he communicates. He explained each detail in the prophecy, there is a rational thought process going on. This is not the same thing as what is happening in these kinds of ecstatics that took place in the mystery religions, the counterfeit religions, that dominated all the pagan culture surrounding Israel. Ecstatics was the modus operandi of false religion always, and it always excluded reason and the use of the mind. God never expects us to put our thinking on hold. When we come to the future, when we have the future events of prophecy, dreams and visions mentioned in Joel 2 it is going to function the same way it did in the Old Testament. It is still going to involve the use of the mind and the thought processes of the individual. Ecstatics is always the modus operandi of the unbeliever, the modus operandi of paganism, and it is never the modus operandi of God. God never expects us to disengage our mind and our thinking.

1 Corinthians 12:3 NASB "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." What Paul is saying here is that unless you are filled with the Spirit you won't understand the full deity of Jesus Christ. If you are not filled with the Spirit then you will have a distorted Christology.

1 Corinthians 12:4 NASB "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. [5] And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. [6] There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all {persons.}" What we have in these three verses is a clear affirmation of the Trinity.

Philosophy has to deal with as its fundamental category metaphysics, ultimate reality. But you can't get to the Trinity on reason alone. You can't get to the Trinity on the basis of experience. All that philosophy may get to is that there is something out there but we don't know anything about it. If you don't know anything about the something then you don't know what the something is. You can't call the something God, because unless you know something about the attributes and characteristics you don't know if it is a God or not. That is why ultimately the arguments for the existence of God don't necessitate a Christian God.

What we have going on in these three verses is one of the most profound applications in Paul's thought that very few people take time to really study. Ephesians 4:8-12 is another key passage on spiritual gifts. How does Paul set up his discussion on the spiritual gifts before he gets to verse 7? He talks about unity. Ephesians 4:3 NASB "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [4] {There is} one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; [5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." So we are talking about unity here.

Paul says in these verses there are diversities of gifts, but there is the same Spirit—unity. There are differences of ministries, but there is the same Lord. The diversities of activities, but we have the same God [the Father]. So here we have a Trinitarian statement. On the one hand there is unity and that unity operates because there is one God. But that one God has three persons. He is one in essence and at the same time three in person. He is not three different persons, that would be tri-theism. He is not one essence that expresses that just expresses Himself in three different ways. In the ancient world that was called the heresy of modalism.