In 1 Thessalonians 4:18 Paul concluded a section of revelation concerning the final coming of Jesus by stating, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Paul had just revealed that the dead in Christ had not perished. They were alive in the spirit and would come with Jesus at the time of His final coming. We thus have Paul’s written revelation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 concerning what will happen when Jesus comes again. This record has come to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, exhorts us to comfort one another with this inspired record of the final event of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is the responsibility of all disciples to talk among themselves concerning the gospel of Jesus’ coming, for in such discussions there is comfort.
GOD COMFORTS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS:
In 2 Thessalonians 2:16,17 Paul wrote,
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.”
We do not know how God comforts in the way Paul here reveals. Paul mentioned throughout his communication to the Thessalonians how God comforts in an indirect manner. However, in this statement Paul seems to indicate that in some way God “comforts our hearts” in a direct way. This comforting does not refer to our salvation. It affects our mental attitudes in times of trouble or conflict.
God has given us “everlasting comfort” in the sense that we know that our salvation is secure because of His grace. However, He also comforts our hearts in times of struggle in ways that we do not understand. We simply accept the fact that He does because He has said so in His word. The fact that He says He comforts us is enough to know that there is comfort from Him upon our request.
“Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.”
In this passage, credit was given to God for the comfort that came to everyone involved. But the comforting was in the interaction of Christians with one another, which interaction was based on their common obedience to the gospel (Jd 3). Paul also explained the manner or medium through which one is comforted.
Paul was comforted by God in two ways. First, he was comforted by the coming of Titus. Titus’ presence brought him comfort. Secondly, he was comforted by hearing of the tender affections the Corinthians had for him. He knew that the Corinthians had been concerned about his situation. When they were told of His well-being, they were also comforted. Paul wrote, “Therefore we have been comforted in your comfort” (2 Co 7:13).
The Corinthians’ comfort of Paul came from God. However, it came through the person of Titus and the knowledge of the Corinthians’ concern for his well-being. We could say that it was God’s providential work that brought Titus to Paul. Therefore, in this way we must give God credit, as did Paul, that the comfort originated from God.
The above example may explain what Paul meant in the entire context of 2 Corinthians 7:3-7. He was “filled with comfort.” He praised God “who comforts the downcast.” He thanked Titus for the comfort that he brought. He rejoiced that Titus was comforted by the Corinthians.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul looked to the Father as the “God of all comfort” (2 Co 1:3), because God comforted him in his affliction. The 2 Corinthians 7:6,7 text explains how God comforted Paul. Because of this comfort from God, Paul said that Christians were able to comfort one another (2 Co 1:4). 2 Corinthians 7:6,7 is a commentary of 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
GOD COMFORTS IN OUR ENVIRONMENT:
After Saul’s conversion, the early church had peace and was edified. “And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (At 9:31). The early church was comforted by the fact of Paul’s conversion. The lack of stress under persecution equals comfort. When Christians live in an environment where there is no persecution from either government or enemies of the truth, they can live in comfort.
The word which is translated “comfort” in Acts 9:31 is from the same Greek word that is used in John 14:16 where it is translated “helper,” “counselor,” or “comforter.” This is a word that was commonly used as a legal term to refer to an advocate or legal counsel. However, in the context of Acts 9:31, the word refers to supplication or entreaty. Though this is the only time this word is used in Acts, in other scriptures it is translated either “exhortation,” “consolation” or “entreaty.” The word is also used in Romans 15:4 where Paul stated,
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
This passage teaches that the disciples were comforted (consoled) by the inspired Scriptures that were written beforehand.
It is significant to note that the comforting work of the Spirit in Acts 9:31 resulted in the growth of the church. Therefore, the early disciples obediently walked in the will (fear) of the Lord and the entreaty or exhortation of the Spirit. As a result, the church grew. When the disciples are in an environment of peace, they have a greater opportunity to share the gospel with others.
Through the same medium as pointed out in the preceding point with the Colossians, the Thessalonians were encouraged. When Paul was in Thessalonica, he “exhorted and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (1 Th 2:11). When he left Thessalonica, he sent Timothy “to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith” (1 Th 3:2). When Paul heard of the Thessalonians’ faith, he was also comforted. “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love … we were comforted concerning you by your faith” (1 Th 3:6,7). It was through the good reports brought by fellow teachers of the gospel that the Thessalonians were comforted. Paul was comforted by the reports of faithfulness of those who had obeyed the gospel. It was as John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to heart that my children walk in the truth” (3 Jn 4).
Emphasis on individuals being the medium through whom God comforts is also revealed in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you are doing.” “Comfort the fainthearted” (1 Th 5:14). By revelation of things concerning the resurrection and kingdom reign of King Jesus over all things, Paul instructed the Thessalonians, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Th 4:18). In 2 Thessalonians 2:16,17, Paul wrote, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ … comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.”
The comforting of the Thessalonians was through two means: First, it was through the medium of teachers who reminded them of the gospel that they had obeyed, as well as the good reports that they brought to the disciples. Secondly, it was through inspired teachers that Paul sent to them fellow workers in the faith. Through the medium of the presence of individuals who focused on the gospel in Thessalonica, Christians were comforted.
The entire spectrum of the gospel—the incarnation, atoning sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, coronation and kingdom reign—are all the result of the grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Continual study and learning these subjects in the word of God brings tremendous comfort. When one is in Christ, therefore, his continual remembrance of such great news renews one’s soul. For this reason, God expects personal Bible study of every Christian, for it is only through the word of God that we learn about the gospel. He will not, therefore, bring comfort to those who refuse to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). He has thus commissioned the preaching and teaching of the message of the gospel as a source of encouragement for all Christians. The following points describe how God comforts those who have obeyed the gospel, and thus seek to live according to the gospel:
GOD COMFORTS THROUGH OTHERS:
“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding” (Cl 2:1,2).
Paul indicated in the preceding statement that those in Laodicea, as well as those who heard of his labors, but had not seen his face, would be comforted by him. He labored “that their hearts may be encouraged.”
The disciples in Colosse were also comforted by the presence and teaching of Tychicus. Tychicus was sent to them by Paul in order “that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts” (Cl 4:7,8). Paul also sent Tychicus to the Ephesians “that he may comfort your hearts” (Ep 6:22). Tychicus comforted the disciples by reminding them of the gospel of Jesus Christ (See Rm 1:13-16). He was the agent through whom God worked to comfort hearts. Concerning Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark and Justus, Paul said that all these were men “proved to be a comfort to me” (Cl 4:7-11). Through the faithful work of fellow workers in the preaching of the gospel, God comforts the hearts.
“And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and toward all, even as we do toward you. May He establish [strengthen] your hearts to be blameless in holiness before our God” (1 Th 3:12,13).
How did the Lord cause the Thessalonians to be established their hearts? In the same chapter, Paul stated that He sent Timothy “to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith” (1 Th 3:2). In this case, it was through the teaching of the prophet Timothy that the Thessalonians were established and encouraged (See Gl 6:1,2). This would be the same medium of strengthening that Paul wanted to accomplish among the Roman Christians through the teaching of the gospel that all of them had already obeyed (Rm 1:13-16). 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is a commentary verse concerning this power of the word of the gospel to build up the Christian:
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
The point is that because of the belief on the part of the Christian, the word of the gospel of God can permeate one’s life and direct his ways. Through the power of this message, the Holy Spirit establishes and encourages Christians. Through the preaching of the Spirit-inspired word of the message of the gospel, the Spirit works in order to strengthen every disciple.
Through the revelation of the word of God, Christians study, and thus, are strengthened by what they learn from the faithfulness of others. They read of other faithful people of God who were delivered because of their faith in the promises of God (Hb 11). They were thus strengthened and encouraged as they reflected on the hope that was set before them. Christians are also strengthened by their companionship with one another. They encourage one another to be faithful (Gl 6:1,2; Hb 10:24,25). They remain faithful because of their hope that is produced by focusing on the message of the gospel of God’s grace through His Son.
Though Christians are strengthened indirectly by influences from outside, they are also strengthened by God’s work in their inner person. We are not informed as to how God accomplishes this strengthening. We are simply told through the Scriptures that God the Spirit works to strengthen our resolve in times of trial. The disciples of Jesus find great encouragement in this promise. In times of trial, therefore, they rely on the inner strengthening of the Holy Spirit to take them through tough times. God will not allow His children to be tempted beyond what they can endure. And thus, He strengthens His children in times when they need endurance.
Paul prayed that the Colossians“be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Cl 1:9). His prayer was that they …
“… walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power” (Cl 1:10,11).
These are statements of exhortation. They were written in order to encourage the Colossian disciples to continue in the faith. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:6,7,
“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”
The Colossians had been taught the truth of the gospel. They were increasing in the knowledge of the word of the gospel because of the work of the inspired prophets who labored among them in teaching. The prophets continued to teach the gospel as the foundation upon which they would spiritually grow. Therefore, upon the foundation of the gospel, they were being established.
We may not understand all that transpires when God makes it possible that we not be tempted above that which we are able to endure. However, because of the Scriptures, we at least can prove that the Spirit works on us through the medium of the Holy Scriptures. Consider the following cases where the Spirit worked through the word of the gospel in order to build up and strengthen the disciples:
THE EPHESIANS WERE STRENGTHENED:
When Paul left the Ephesian church, he reminded the elders of their responsibility to focus on the word of God in order to grow spiritually: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up” (At 20:32). When he wrote to all the disciples in Ephesus a few years later, he commanded them to be strong: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep 6:10). Titus 2:11,12 would be a commentary passage on the work of the word of God in the lives of the Ephesians:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
It is through the teaching of the word of God that we are spiritually built up. Through this same word, we are taught to deny ungodliness. We must give credit to the Holy Spirit for this spiritual growth simply because He is the source by which the word existed. It existed in the lives of the early disciples, either through the inspired message of the prophets, or later through the inspired written word of God.
Ephesians 3:16 is a very important passage concerning the strengthening through the Spirit. Paul prayed, “that He [God the Father] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might[power] through His Spirit in the inner man” (See 1 Pt 5:10). We must understand this statement in the historical context in which it was originally written. The preposition “with,” in reference to power, emphasizes the instrumental use of power. This power is exercised “in the inner man,” thus, this phrase would be locative. The passage would therefore be saying that one is strengthened in the inner man [location] by the power of the Holy Spirit. If reference is here to the use of the miraculous gifts in the lives of the Ephesian disciples at the time the statement was made, then the Ephesians would have received strength from the confirming nature of the miraculous gifts, as well as the inspired message of the Ephesian prophets. However, the strengthening seems to go beyond their witness of the ministry of the gifts. They were ministered the word of God through the gifted prophets among them.
Another important grammatical point concerning Ephesians 3:16 would be the preposition “through.” Some translations unfortunately translate the Greek dia that is used here with the English preposition “by.” The New King James Version is correct with the translation “through.” It is the same preposition that was used by Peter in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through [dia] the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren.”
The Spirit does not work directly in conversion to purify the souls of man. He works through the message of the truth of the gospel. Through the Spirit-inspired truth of the gospel, the Spirit works in conversion. 1 Peter 1:22 would be parallel to the thoughts of Ephesians 3:16. Through the miraculous power of the inspired preaching of the truth of the gospel to the Ephesians, they were strengthened in the inner man.
Paul does not explain in Ephesians 3:16 how the Spirit strengthens. However, we would assume that He at least strengthens through the medium of the message of the gospel. The Ephesians were to allow the Spirit’s power through the preaching of the gospel to strengthen them. Paul’s emphasis on accepting this power is explained in Ephesians 6:10-20 where the Ephesians were to take up the armor of salvation.
Ephesians 3:17 would agree with the preceding point. Paul continued to say “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rm 10:17). Thus, Christ dwells in one insofar as the word of Christ produces faith in the inner man of the obedient believer. A commentary passage on this thought would be Romans 16:25:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began.”
We are established (strengthened) according (by) the gospel. Paul added, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Ph 4:13). Jesus does strengthen us. Through the power of the gospel He has laid the foundation upon which the Christian stands (1 Co 15:1,2). Through growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, He continues to strengthen those who have put their faith in Jesus (2 Pt 3:18). This thought is brought out in Paul’s introduction to the letter of Romans when he expressed the reason for his desire to go to Rome:
“I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you. But I was hindered until the present, so that I might have some fruit among you also, even as I have among the other Gentiles” (Rm 1:13).
Paul then explained how he would produce this fruit among the Roman Christians: “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you [Christians] also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the unbelievers, but it is also the power of God to produce spiritual fruit (growth) in the hearts of the believers. This power does not terminate at the waters of baptism.
One must always consider verse 16 of Ephesians 3 with verse 20: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” God’s power of the gospel continues to work in the hearts of the Christian. This power was released through the preaching of the gospel in the first century. This same power continues today. The power of the gospel continues to work for the benefit of the Christian. The gospel of God’s grace that was revealed by His Son on the cross is the guarantee of God’s promise that His Son will come for us. This promise is based on God’s word:
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hb 4:12).
The New Testament clearly teaches that there is a special relationship between the Christian and the Holy Spirit. This relationship is defined as an “indwelling” of the Spirit. It is an indwelling relationship that one does not have with the Spirit before he becomes a child of God through obedience to the gospel.
Though the Spirit works on the heart of the alien sinner before baptism through the spoken or written word of the gospel, He indwells the Christian in a special relationship after baptism. God maintains this special relationship with His people until King Jesus comes again. It is then that our relationship with God will be truly personal.
When discussing the indwelling of God in the Christian while in this world, we must be careful to not literalize metaphors of human location in reference to God, and thus, localize God. The very nature of words as “in,” “here,” “there,” and “indwell” in our human vocabulary carry with them an earthly meaning of location. We are either “here” or “there.” But God is “here” and “there” at the same time. Therefore, when earthly words are used in the Bible to refer to the presence of God, they must first be understood metaphorically.
We cannot place God in a particular location. When we use words as “in,” “with,” “enter,” “upon,” etc. in reference to God, we often force an earthly and human characteristic or action upon God. However, when such words are used to refer to God, there must be a metaphorical meaning that is implied. God is beyond the source of our metaphors, that is, He is beyond the earthly definition of our words.
We do not serve a God who is confined to a location as we are so confined. We would not locate God in the physical structure of a temple. We would not, as apostate Israel, place Him on top of a mountain or confine Him to a literal definition of our own bodies. Literalizing beautiful metaphors in reference to God leads us to misunderstand the wonderful relationship God has with His creation. This relationship is explained with words that are of this world, but indicate something that is far beyond this world. We must not confine God to this world with a literal definition of our words that are used in the Bible to define either His existence or actions.
It is true that the Holy Spirit used “words of location” to explain the work, being, and presence of God. This is particularly true in His relationship with His people. However, we must understand that the Holy Spirit was limited to the use of our dictionary. If He would have used a “heavenly dictionary,” we would not have been able to understand the Bible. “Heavenly words” have no earthly definitions. One must understand, therefore, that earthly words fall far short of explaining heavenly concepts.
For the above reason, the Holy Spirit in inspiration used metaphors in order to explain those things with which we have had no experience. Simple words as “in” and “indwell” are often used in a metaphorical sense to explain something that is greater than our human experience. Therefore, something greater than the earthly definitions of the words is being conveyed by the Spirit when these words are used in reference to the Holy Spirit.
Biblical interpreters have often made an unfortunate error here. In failing to understand the inability of human words to define that which is beyond the human experience, they have humanized numerous concepts concerning God. This unfortunate practice has led to a great deal of confusion in our attempts to understand the nature and indwelling of God. By forcing God to conform to the definitions of our earthly words, we have created a god after our own image and after our own desires.
However, we are not alone in failing to recognize the fact that God is beyond human description. In other words, He is far beyond the definition of the words of our dictionary. Because the Jews failed to understand this, they also had difficulty in understanding metaphors that were used in reference to their relationship with God. This was especially true concerning their tendency to localize God to Palestine, and specifically to a temple once it was constructed. Their localization of God was clearly brought out in their concept of the “God in a temple.”
By the time of the kingship of Solomon, Solomon knew that the people would seek to locate God in the temple that was newly constructed. When he completed the temple in Jerusalem, therefore, at the inauguration of the structure, he reminded the Jews,
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Kg 8:27; see 2 Ch 2:6).
Solomon was right. Nevertheless, the Jews’ earthly understandings persisted throughout their history. When Israel was deep into their apostasy of turning from the God of heaven, God rebuked them by saying, “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build me? And where is the place of My rest?” (Is 66:1).
Israel persisted in localizing God in Jerusalem, and in particular, in the temple. Unfortunately, they missed the metaphors, and thus, missed a true understanding of the omnipresent Deity who created them. We often do the same today.
Since God is God, He does not dwell in a particular location, for it is superfluous to affirm that He dwells here or there in His creation. He is! And the fact that He is God means that He cannot be confined to a “location.” He cannot be located somewhere in His creation. He is located everywhere. The words “here” and “there” refer to the position that material objects or individuals have with one another.
God was not “there” in the temple while we are “here” in our houses. God is both “here” and “there” at the same time. Therefore, we do not go to the temple in order to encounter God. He is both in our house and in the temple at the same time. Such is the nature of His existence. God Is!
Stephen rebutted the Jews “localization theology” in Acts 7:48: “The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands.” Stephen then quoted Solomon’s statements to remind the Jews that God never intended to dwell in a temple as they desired (At 7:49,50). It is simply not possible for God to be omnipresent, and at the same time, located. This is a logical contradiction.
Paul made the same argument to the Greek philosophers that Stephen made to the Jews, who also had the concept of placing God at a particular location. So Paul argued in Athens, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (At 17:24).
In the mythological religion of the Greeks, the gods were conceived to be in different locations at different times. The Greeks had a humanized concept of deity. They created gods after their own imagination, and thus, when they thought of their gods they thought that the gods behaved as man. However, neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament teach such a concept concerning the true God of heaven.
Solomon, Stephen and Paul all maintained the same argument that was based on the statement that God made to Israel: “Has My hand not made all these things?” (At 7:50; Is 66:2; see Ps 102:25). In other words, God was saying that He could not dwell in something that is innate or material that He Himself had created. How could that which is created, box in He who creates it?
Our earthly understanding is that we build a house, and then, “dwell” in that house. However, God created the timber, the nails and all the construction materials. How do we think we can confine God by that which He has created? Israel could not confine God to the four walls of a temple. Neither can we confine Him in any “holy” structure that we would suppose to build for Him.
In reference to the omnipresence of God, the Psalmist wrote that the whole earth is full of His glory (Ps 72:19; see Hk 2:14). We cannot escape the presence of God, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (At 17:28). We have our being in Him. He does not have His being in us. His existence is not dependent on our existence, nor on our imagination.
The fact that God exists means that He is omnipresent. We are in His presence at all times. He is simultaneously here, there and everywhere. He cannot be localized on the far side of the planet of Mars, or in another galaxy. He cannot be localized in any part of His creation. We cannot escape His presence even if it were possible to travel at light speed beyond our galaxy.
The nature of Jesus’ incarnation argues the omnipresence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul wrote concerning Jesus,
“Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:6,7).
John affirmed that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1,14). Before the incarnation, God the Son was in Spirit (Jn 4:24). However, He “localized” in the flesh of man in order to dwell among us in this world.
Though we may not understand all the implications of the incarnation of the Son of God, it is evident that God “localized” in some way on earth within the form of flesh that could be handled and touched (1 Jn 1:1-3). The flesh could be touched, nevertheless, the Deity that is spirit, could not. Therefore, the incarnation was necessary in order for the Father to offer for us His Son in bodily form.
At this point in time (the incarnation), a “personality” of God (the Son) focused here on earth in a fleshly body for a special purpose. Such affirms that beyond the physical dwelling (the body), Jesus as Deity before the incarnation was not here or there. He was God in omnipresent existence in eternity. What He was on earth was in contrast to what He was in eternity. In incarnation He took on human characteristics, and thus, human location in respect to the position or relationship that people have with one another. Therefore, in the state of incarnation, God the Son was “here” or “there.” But in the heavenly state in the spirit, God the Son was neither “here” nor “there.”
When considering the omnipresence of God, David felt extremely human in understanding. “Such knowledge,” he wrote, “is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Ps 139:6). He was right. These things are beyond human comprehension. By inspiration David tried in Psalm 139:7-12 to help us understand the marvelous omnipresence of God.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
We are not the servants of a God who is confined to some location in order to have a relationship with mankind. If one should so think that God must be in a particular location in order to be close, then God would ask,
“Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord, “and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord (Jr 23:23,24).
God is present at all times—He is close—because in Him we live, move and have our being.
The omnipresence of God the Holy Spirit, is a difficult concept to understand since omnipresence is not a characteristic of man. Nevertheless, we must understand the nature of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the context of the omnipresence of Deity. The metaphorical use of earthly defined words can take us only so far in comprehending the being and presence of God the Holy Spirit. Our imagination must take it from there. When we discuss the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, therefore, we must not debate over our imaginations concerning the interpretations of metaphors. How can we possibly understand that which is beyond our experience?
Disputing over metaphors that were meant to take our minds into the realm of the supernatural is futile. The extent of our argument often defines the level of our inability to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s use of metaphor in order to explain His presence and relationship with man.
The Bible states that the Spirit indwells the Christian. However, determining the nature of the indwelling leaves us to ask some questions about things we do not understand. To ask the questions, and subsequently receive no answers, does not frustrate us. We will never understand everything about the indwelling work of the Spirit. However, we do need to caution ourselves about attaching human definitions to words that the Spirit used to explain a divine relationship that He has with us. The problem often comes when the Spirit used our words to communicate a divine relationship, while we argue over locations.
When we come to the Scriptures, we must therefore caution ourselves not to humanize God with our terms of location. Men in general often have a Jewish or Greek concept of God’s presence and existence. In some cases, we are still struggling to overcome a childish concept of God who supposedly has long gray hair, an old looking face, and sits on a great white throne on a cloud. In our literalization of figures of speech in the Bible, and lack of recognition of great biblical metaphors, we fail to allow the Holy Spirit to take our minds beyond this world. In literalizing the metaphors, we have cheated ourselves of greater understandings concerning the nature and being of God and His relationship with His children. We must in the end conclude that God is far beyond our comprehension, and therefore, we must never confine Him to the definition of our earthly words.
8. “Interpretation”: Some have misunderstood the meaning of the gift of interpretation. It has been claimed that Paul meant that one is to “decipher” an ecstatic utterance or gibberish, not interpret a foreign language. However, the Greek word diermaneutas (interpretation) is used in thirteen different places in the New Testament in one form or another. It is almost always used in reference to translating the words of one known language into another known language (See Jn 1:38,41; 9:7; At 13:8; Hb 7:2). An exception to this would be Luke 24:27 where Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for the disciples. But even in this case it was the interpretation of thought from one known language into another that was under consideration.
In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, therefore, we must understand that the word diermaneutas was used in its most common manner. It was not used to refer to the translation of gibberish sounds into a language of man. The word was never used to refer to the translation of some unheard of gibberish into a language that is known by man. It was used in the sense that the interpreter translated a spoken language that was known by mankind into the language of others who were present.
There is no justification to read ecstatic utterances into the context of 1 Corinthians. Fudge rightly concluded,
“The idea of some ecstatic language, some unintelligible gibberish, or a mystical prayer-language finds absolutely no support in the text of First Corinthians. Any teaching growing out of that notion is based entirely on supposition and assumption, and finds no ground in the Scriptures – here or elsewhere” (Speaking in Tongues).
There are no unknown languages discussed in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. There was no ecstatic gibberish in the assembly of the Corinthian church. When Paul discussed the subject of tongues, Bible students must understand that he was referring to the languages of men. In fact, his instructions concerning tongues throughout the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 can be understood only if we understand that he was speaking of known languages of men in the context of his instructions. This is the only consistent manner by which 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 can be understood.
[End of series: The forthcoming book, of which this material is one of the chapters, will be out as an ebook November.]
5.“Pray that he may interpret” (1 Co 14:13): This statement is made to affirm that one should pray for the gift of interpretation. In the case here, it is made in reference to those who already had the apostles’ hands laid on them in order to receive the gift of languages or some other gift.
We must remember that it was the Spirit who distributed the particular gifts (1 Co 12:11). Therefore, those who already had hands laid on them were to pray that the Spirit might give them the additional gift of interpretation if they had already received another gift, specifically the gift of languages.
We cannot assume that Paul was teaching here that they pray for a miraculous gift if they had not had the apostles’ hands laid on them. It took more than praying to receive the gift of tongues. This gift did not come simply in answer to prayer. The Corinthian situation proves this. They were in a situation where there was no interpreter of the various languages that were being spoken. If prayer was the only thing necessary in order to receive the gift of interpretation, then there would never be a situation where an interpreter is not present, for one could simply pray and receive the gift from God.
God would give the gift of interpretation in order to stop the confusion. But in this case in Corinth, there were languages being spoken without an interpreter of the language being spoken. Paul’s instructions in this case are mentioned in verse 28. If no interpreter was present, then the one who was speaking in a language that could not be understood by the assembly, must be quiet.
Other contexts prove that more than prayer was needed in order to receive a miraculous gift. If prayer alone were the only prerequisite for receiving a gift, then why did Paul desire to go to Rome in order that he might impart to them some spiritual gift (Rm 1:11)? Could he not simply have instructed them through the Roman letter to pray for gifts to be added among the Roman Christians? Why did the apostles Peter and John have to go from Jerusalem to Samaria in order to lay hands on the newly converted disciples in order that they receive miraculous gifts (See At 8:18)? Could not Philip have instructed them to pray for the gifts?
The answer to the preceding questions is simple. It was only through the laying on of the apostles’ hands that the gifts could be given. Prayer concerning the gifts was for the purpose of receiving from the Spirit another gift of personal choice, since it was the initial choice of the Spirit to distribute the gifts according to His will (1 Co 12:11).
Prayer for the gift of interpretation would be necessary because the gift of languages did not assume that one would also be blessed with the gift of interpretation. Languages was a gift of confirmation before unbelievers. For evangelistic purposes, those who spoke in languages to unbelievers did not need the language they spoke to be interpreted because the particular group of unbelievers to whom they preached the gospel already knew the language. It was their native language. In fact, the gift of speaking in languages to the foreign unbelievers was for the purpose of communicating the gospel to the foreigner in his own language. No interpretation was needed. Because of his mission to many language groups, Paul could say to the Corinthians, “I speak with languages more than you all” (1 Co 14:18).
But in the case of a mixed assembly of believers, and possible unbelieving foreigners, the spoken language of the assembly needed to be translated for the local Christians, or the visiting unbelievers. This is another point to prove that the assembly about which Paul was addressing in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 was a special biannual assembly of all the Christians throughout Achaia who came together in Corinth for the Isthmian Games that were conducted in the city. In this assembly, the women were to keep silent, and the gifted prophets and language speakers were to sort themselves out in order that the possible participants of the Games who possibly attended this occasional biannual assembly not think that the assembly of Christians was an assembly of madmen.
We must keep in mind also that 1 Corinthians 14:13 addressed the brother who already had the gift of languages. Paul said that he must then pray that he interpret for the visitors. Therefore, he had already had hands laid on him to receive the gift of languages. His prayer would be that the Spirit also distribute to him the gift of interpretation (1 Co 12:11). Since one could possess more than one gift, then we assume from what Paul meant was that one should pray for other gifts if he had already had hands laid on him by a Christ-sent apostle.
1 Corinthians 14:13 could refer to one praying that an apostle be able to be present in order that one receive a spiritual gift (At 18:8). One should “desire spiritual gifts,” and pray that the medium through which they were distributed would come into his or her presence.
One who had not had hands laid on him by an apostle could not receive a spiritual gift simply by praying for it. A Christ-sent apostle had to be present in order that the gift be imparted by the laying on of his hands. Only if one had already had hands laid on him could he pray for another gift. Since there are no Christ-sent apostles today, it would be futile to word a prayer for a miraculous gift. This would be asking for more than what God has promised for us today. It would be a direct attack against the sufficiency of the inspired word of God that God says is sufficient to supply us unto all good works (See 2 Tm 3:16,17).
There is a practical argument concerning praying for the gift of interpretation that must also be considered in order to understanding what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 14:13. The one who was speaking in tongues was speaking the word of God. So it would be today if one stands up in an assembly and preaches in a language no one understands. If we have the miraculous gift of interpretation today, then certainly a brother could immediately pray for this gift, and thus, translate into the common language the meaning of what was being said. In this way, we could understand the message. If the speaker spoke in Mandarin Chinese, some brother could pray for the gift of interpretation in order to translate Mandarin into the common language of the assembly. The fact that this does not happen proves that we do not have the gift of interpretation today. In a practical sense, it proves that the gift of interpretation could not be arbitrarily received by the Corinthians.
6. “Understanding is unfruitful” (1 Co 14:14): This statement is misunderstood by some to refer to one not understanding some gibberish sound the speaker was supposedly speaking. Those who make this unfortunate interpretation affirm that they do not have to understand what they are saying. The fact is that if they are speaking gibberish they do not and cannot know what they are saying themselves. However, this is not what Paul is discussing in 1 Corinthians 14:14.
Such interpretations of the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 are certainly beneath the dignity of the Scriptures and certainly outside logical reasoning concerning the work of God. And above all, such interpretations make God use men as talking toys for His own amusement. The Holy Spirit does not work in a way to make God speak to Himself through the medium of men. God does not use the occasion of our assemblies to talk to Himself.
What Paul means is if the audience does not understand what is being prayed in a language, then there is no fruit produced from the prayer of those in the audience. If the audience does not understand the communication in prayer, then the prayer is useless to them.
The entire context of 1 Corinthians 14 is centered around the edification of the church in the assemblies (1 Co 14:26). The prayers that are under discussion refer to those prayers that are made in the assembly of the church. The church is not edified, therefore, if the prayers are in a language that cannot be understood by the assembly. This is why Paul said, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding” (1 Co 14:15). In other words, if God’s revelation flows through the inspired individual, but straight back to God, then the assembly benefits nothing. It was not the work of the Spirit in the first century to inspire people to speak to God in public prayer in a language that could not be understood by the audience. This would be God speaking to Himself.
7. “Strange tongues” (1 Co 14:21): This statement in the original King James Version is also used to read the practice of speaking gibberish utterances into the context of 1 Corinthians 14. From the English word “strange,” it is assumed that the language that was spoken was unknown by any man. However, Paul was here quoting from Isaiah 28:11. In the context of Isaiah 28:11, Isaiah referred to the language of the Assyrians who took Israel into captivity in 721/722 B.C. He was not referring to ecstatic utterances, but to a specific language that was known by man.
The fact that Paul used the quotation of Isaiah 28:11 is proof that he was discussing the known languages of men in 1 Corinthians 14. Isaiah referred to languages when he wrote Isaiah 28. The same meaning must be carried with the quotation into the context of 1 Corinthians 14.
The “strange tongues” about which both Paul and Isaiah spoke were “foreign languages” to the Jews. In fact, this passage is better translated in recent versions to read “other” tongues or languages. The Revised King James Version reads, “With men of other languages and other lips I will speak to this people.”