One of the most intriguing studies of the Bible is in reference to the existence and ministry of angels. This subject has stimulated the curiosity of Bible students for centuries. In today’s religious world, however, there are enough speculations about angels to write books. And many have. We will add to that library. Nevertheless, it is not our intention in this brief book to give any lengthy study of angels, and especially to discuss speculations that are beyond what is revealed on the subject in the Bible. Because there is little revealed on this subject in the Bible, this should not discourage one’s beliefs that angels are there, or here, in reference to our lives in this world. We would simply seek to remain with what the Bible actually says on the subject, and from there, walk by faith. We are sure that this is the walk with which our Father pleased.
We must confess that we have little trust in the theologies of those who have claimed today that they have personally conversed with angels. This is not to say that we do not believe that angels exist. Neither do we mean to say that angels are idle in reference to their work today among the saints of God. And we might add that we cannot deny someone’s supposedly personal encounter with one they perceived to be an angel. Such is a personal matter, and a perception that is based on faith. But in view of the fact that the totality of the gospel has already been revealed, and that God is no respecter of persons, we would question any personal conversations that one might claim to have had with an angel today.
We must understand, however, that the Bible teaches that God is not working in a manner today that appeals to our empirical perceptions. If He did so, then He would hinder our walk by faith. On the contrary, therefore, He seeks to build our faith. And truly, we seek to grow in our faith. We believe the God desires that we walk by faith in order to develop our characters for eternal dwelling. Therefore, those who seek to walk by sight, must guard themselves from conjuring up all sorts of fantasies concerning any close encounters with extraterrestrial beings. Therefore, it is not our purpose here to survey the personal experiences of those who claim to have supposedly encountered an angel. Our task here is simply to understand what the Bible teaches concerning this subject, and thus, understand what the Holy Spirit desires that we know about angels.
We must assume that the inspired Scriptures were written in order to give us a definition of what God feels is essential for our faith. Whatever our beliefs may be concerning the presence and work of angels, or the experiences we may have had, we must allow our understanding of this subject to be directed and defined by the word of God.
One of the first surprises that the Bible student learns about the study of angels is that God used angels to carry out many missions for Him throughout history. This is a surprise simply because there is usually little study of this subject among Bible students. Angels were God’s messengers throughout history, and simply because we do not see angels today, does not mean that they are not there. According to what the Bible says, they are there. Angels are present among us, though it is not necessary to encounter personally or hear them (See Hb 13:2). They simply carry on with their God-commissioned ministry at the command of the One who created them.
Angels are doing their intended work as the messengers of God regardless of our full understanding of what they do, or where they are at any time in history. As with studies of the Holy Spirit, we need not understand everything concerning the being and work of angels in order to know that they are doing what God wants them to do. The limitations of our awareness of their presence or their work does not limit what they are doing. Nevertheless, since there is so much in the Bible about their ministry among those on earth, the logical assumption is that they are still here. They are still working for their Creator on behalf of the saints. However, our questions concerning their work at any one time in history must be defined by what we read about their work in the Bible.
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.”
3. “Speaking mysteries” (1 Co 14:2): As stated before, the word “unknown” is not in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 14:2. Therefore, Paul was not talking about some language that was not known by man. The word “mystery” in the verse does not refer to ecstatic sounds of gibberish. Paul was simply using the word “mystery” as it was commonly used to denote spiritual truth that is communicated to man by God (See Rm 16:25; 1 Co 2:7; Cl 1:25-29; Ep 3:3-5).
The phrase “in the Spirit” refers to inspiration. As previously discussed, a consistent understanding of this phrase as it is used in the Bible would lead us to understand that inspiration to speak in a language by the Holy Spirit is under discussion in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:2. Therefore, it was by inspiration of the Spirit that the Corinthians spoke the mysteries of the truth (See Ep 3:3-5).
In the context of 1 Corinthians 14:2, no one understood what the speaker was saying simply because there was no one present who had the gift of interpreting the specific language that was being spoken. This is why Paul made the exhortation of verse 13: “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” This is also why Paul prohibited one from speaking in tongues when there was no interpreter present. “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God” (vs 28).
The phrase, “does not speak to men but to God,” does not assume that the speaker cannot understand what he is saying. 1 Corinthians 14:28 emphasizes the fact that if there were no interpreter present, then the individual was speaking to himself and to God. Therefore, he did understand what he was saying, though those around him did not. This is why Paul gave the instruction that this person should keep silent if there were no interpreter present. In other words, he should not disturb the assembly of the disciples for his own benefit.
Almost all of the disciples of the New Testament to which a Christ-sent apostle went exercised the use of the miraculous gifts if they had previously come into contact with an apostle. Because of the problems that prevailed in Corinth, confusion arose concerning the use of the gifts. The confusion that was occurring among the Corinthians led to Paul’s writing of the instructions of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14.
a. The Corinthians were speaking without consideration for one another. The gift of tongues was being used in Corinth without brotherly love. They were speaking in foreign languages in the assembly without respect to foreigners who did not understand the particular language that was being spoken. Because no interpreter was present, therefore, those in the assembly could not understand.
b. The Corinthians were speaking in confusion. Those who were speaking were speaking at the same time. They were thus causing confusion in the assembly by exercising a gift that was meant to edify instead of manifesting pride.
c. The Corinthians were speaking out of order. Those exercising their gifts were not respecting the orderliness by which the gifts were to be used in the assemblies. In 1 Corinthians 14:2, therefore, Paul gave them instructions concerning an orderly manner of using the gift of languages.
The point is that those who were speaking, were speaking mysteries because they could not be understood by the audience. They were only manifesting their pride by speaking. And in this way, they were speaking in a manner that caused confusion in the assembly. Paul exhorted them to check both their attitudes and the manner by which they used their gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:26-35 includes Paul’s instructions to correct the disorderly practices of those who were causing confusion in the assembly. They had been ignoring these courteous procedures because of their pride and divisive spirits.
4. “He edifies himself” (1 Co 14:4): Some have used this statement to prove that those who spoke should be seeking to edify only themselves, and not the assembly. But in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14, the edification of the entire assembly was under consideration. The use of speaking in languages was to be for the benefit of the assembly, not any particular individual in the assembly.
1 Corinthians 14:5 states that the assembly was not edified if there were no interpreter present who could translate the language that was spoken. Verse 6 states that there was no profit to the assembly unless there was communication of the teaching that was spoken.
Verses 7-11 affirm that such speaking was useless unless it could be understood by the entire assembly. For this reason, Paul exhorted, “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret” (1 Co 14:13). What Paul was saying to the Corinthians in the context was that if there were no understanding, then there was no edification. If ecstatic or hysterical gibberish is what was being discussed in the context, then the meaning of what is said must be understood in order to edify both the individual and the assembly. But if the assembly could not be edified by what was said, then neither can the one who is gibberish sounds. This is why we must affirm that ecstatic gibberish was not in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. Ecstatic gibberish cannot be interpreted. It is simply unintelligible sounds made by an individual who is either emotionally out of control at the time, or is simply making gibberish sounds to draw attention to himself.
Paul did not address speaking in tongues as something that was self-edifying. But what was spoken in a language must edify. The action of speaking was not what edified. In other words, the gift of languages was not meant to be for the benefit of the one who was speaking simply because he was inspired with the ability to speak. This would also be true of the one who would utter ecstatic gibberish. If his actual speaking such sounds was meant to be for himself alone, then the one speaking has missed the purpose for which the gift of languages was given in the New Testament. He was speaking for himself, and thus not using his gift to minister to others.
All gifts were given for the purpose of ministering to the needs of others. No gift was given for the purpose of one to edify himself or to manifest pride before others. The gifts were given to individuals for the purpose of aiding the individuals in their ministry to others. Therefore, any gift that was used in the assembly that did not function in edification of the entire assembly, according to Paul’s instructions, must be silenced.
In the following discussion we must emphasize the fact that Paul was discussing the misuse of the gift of languages in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14, not some strange gibberish sounds that arose from among some misguided emotionalists among the Corinthian disciples. In fact, understanding the context of these three chapters can be realized only when we understand that Paul was discussing the misuse of the gift of languages in the context of the Corinthian assembly.
The Greek word glossa is used throughout the context of Paul’s instructions. We must interpret this word as we would in Acts 2 and 10. If we are to be consistent in our interpretation of the speaking in tongues in the New Testament, we must bring the same speaking in languages we learn in other contexts into the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. When we do this, we interpret Paul’s meaning of tongues in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 to refer to different languages that the Corinthians spoke as a result of the direction of the Holy Spirit.
The original King James translators unfortunately inserted the word “unknown” in 1 Corinthians 14:2. This word, however, is not in the Greek text. It is an addition by the translators of that version who sought to add an interpretive meaning to the text. On the other hand, they possibly added the word to explain the fact that the tongues that were spoken were unknown to those who heard. The tongues (languages) were languages of men, but unknown to the audience.
Regardless of the intentions of the King James translators, the charismatic movement of this century has assumed that the speaking was a gibberish that was unknown to man. Unfortunately, the addition of the word “unknown” has caused much confusion concerning our understanding of 1 Corinthians 12.
In a similar manner, the New English Bible translators used the phrase “ecstatic speech” to translate glossa in 1 Corinthians 14:2. This is another unfortunate translation and one that has again caused much confusion. There is no reason why these translators should have added either the words “unknown” or “ecstatic” with the word glossa in this verse. Both textual additions reveal a bias on the part of translators who were seeking to interpret rather than translate. The word glossa should be translated as it is in Acts 2 and other passages in the New Testament where it is used. In those contexts, it is translated “tongue” or “language.”
The following points clarify what Paul discussed in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. We address these points in view of the charismatic world in which there has been so much confusion concerning the context of these chapters.
While examining these contexts, we must keep foremost in our minds that our personal experiences must not be used to define what Paul wrote. We must simply allow Paul to make clear statements concerning the misuse of tongues without the addition of our emotional experiences.
We must also keep in mind that what is discussed in the New Testament concerning tongues that occurred after Acts 2 must be defined by the context of Acts 2. The Holy Spirit would not confuse us by speaking of two different kinds of “tongue speaking” in the New Testament without alerting us to the fact. Since the languages of men is clearly understood in the context of Acts 2, then we must assume that the same is in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14.
“Kinds of tongues” (1 Co 12:10): It is believed by some that this is a reference to different ecstatic utterances. However, the word “kinds” (genos) that was used by Paul here refers to that which is different, but at the same time, to that which is of the same nature, kind or species. In other words, Paul referred to the different languages the Corinthians spoke. Though the languages were different, they were all languages of men. He was speaking of the different kinds of languages that were spoken by men.
“Tongues of angels” (1 Co 13:1): Paul wrote, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” This is not some heavenly language that was being spoken by some of the Corinthian disciples.
It is not necessary to assume that Paul even speaks of a real language of angels. This is indicated by the use of the subjunctive mood in the text. The word “though,” that is sometimes used to translate ean, should actually be translated “if.” Ean is subjunctive. The subjunctive “if” (ean) suggests probability. In other words, Paul used the subjunctive mood in this verse to express a hyperbole, that is, an exaggeration to express a truth.
This is the logical interpretation of this passage since angels are not physical beings. They are spiritual beings who do not have literal tongues and vocal cords by which to express speech through the reverberation of the air in the atmosphere. In the Bible, angels were manifested at different times and spoke in the languages of men in order to communicate the will of God. However, in their natural habitation, they are not as men who must use their supposed mouths in order to formulate words by which communication is made possible. When any angel spoke, he always spoke with the language of man by which he could be understood by man.
We could paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:1 to say, “Just suppose that it might be that one could speak in the language of angels.” What Paul is saying was that even if he had the ability to speak with the languages of angels, but did not have a loving behavior, such an ability would be useless. Therefore, it is ridiculous to suppose that Paul, or any of the Corinthians, actually spoke in the language of angels. He spoke in the languages of men. He never claimed to have spoken in the language of angels. If the Corinthians were actually speaking in the tongues of angels, then they were blessed with a greater ability than even the apostles on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, for the apostles spoke only in the languages of men, not the languages of angels.
Paul used this same manner of argument in Galatians 1. He wrote, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gl 1:8). Paul was not saying that an angel would actually be able to preach verbally the gospel to the Galatians. He was emphasizing a point. He used an exaggeration in Galatians 1:8 to prove his point. Even if it were possible, he emphasized, the Galatians should not even listen to angels, who if they could, preach another gospel to them. 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 1 are not affirming either actual languages of angels or the preaching of another gospel by angels. Paul was emphasizing an important point by using a hypothetical situation.
1 Corinthians 12 – 14 are some of the most controversial chapters of the New Testament. They are controversial simply because misguided interpreters have allowed their personal emotional experiences in speaking gibberish to be the dictionary by which they have understood what Paul discussed in these chapters.
These chapters in the New Testament have often been used to support the belief that Paul was discussing hysterical utterances or gibberish sounds among the disciples in their assemblies. However, a consistent interpretation of these chapters indicates that the tongues about which Paul spoke must be understood to be the spoken languages of men. In fact, the instructions Paul gave in these chapters makes sense only if the tongues among the Corinthian disciples were the languages of men.
The letter to the Corinthians was written to correct some unfortunate wrong behavior and attitudes that prevailed among the Corinthians. The Corinthians were boastful about their forbearance of the immoral brother. Some were arrogant by questioning the apostleship of Paul. Paul’s letter was a direct and loving condemnation of their present situation in a last minute effort to correct their sinful attitudes before his arrival. In the context of his judgments, he discussed their misuse of the miraculous gifts that he had imparted to them by the laying on of his hands (2 Co 12:12). These gifts were to sustain them in the absence of the written word of God. Unfortunately, they were allowing their dysfunctional attitudes to use their gifts to encourage division.
This discussion of miraculous gifts in the context of the first century disciples was incurred only because there were problems among the Corinthian disciples. We would not have the record of this material if it were not for the problem of arrogance that prevailed among these disciples. Since we do not have similar discussions in the New Testament concerning the miraculous gifts as Paul gives in this context, we would assume that the Holy Spirit did not consider the gifts to be a primary function of the body. At least other disciples did not encourage dysfunctional behavior and attitudes that were characteristic with the Corinthians. Nevertheless, we would give the Corinthians a break in this matter. After all, they were Gentiles who had been Christians for only about five years.
The miraculous gifts were originally distributed among them by Paul in order to mature them in the faith. The gifts, therefore, were only temporary in order to initiate the beginning of their faith in the absence of the written word of God. Edward Fudge correctly concluded,
“One wonders if tongues would have been mentioned in even this epistle had the Corinthians not been so confused and abusive regarding their proper use. The gift does not seem to demand attention apart from a problem. Even here, most of what Paul says about tongues is designed to play down their importance and to urge the Corinthians to completely revamp their attitude toward this gift” (Speaking in Tongues).
It is firmly believed by some that Paul was speaking of ecstatic gibberish or utterances in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. This assertion is made on the basis of the following:
The speaking was addressed to God (14:2,28).
The speaker was speaking mysteries (14:2).
The speaker edified himself and not others (14:4).
The speaker’s understanding was unfruitful (14:14).
The audience may not understand what was said (14:19).
Outsiders would call the disorganized speaking to be madness (14:23).
Though some affirm that the above thoughts of Paul should be understood in view of supposed gibberish or “unknown” sounds, the fact that he spoke of known languages is the consistent understanding of the context. Simply because the above points of Paul are twisted to mean that he was possibly referring to hysterical gibberish, does not mean that the context infers this interpretation. His instructions to correct the misuse of the tongues clearly reveals that he was speaking of known languages.
Luke recorded in Acts 10,11 that when Peter and his company of Jews went into the house of Cornelius, Peter began to speak to them concerning the gospel. However, as he began to speak he was interrupted by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the entire household of Cornelius. The other Jews who were with Peter “heard them speak with tongues [glossa] and magnify God” (At 10:46).
Two very important events explain that Cornelius and his household spoke in languages, and not in some hysterical gibberish or “unknown” sounds.
1. Peter related this experience with the Acts 2 experience of the apostles in Jerusalem. When Peter arrived back in Jerusalem after the experience in the house of Cornelius, he explained to the Jewish Christians who confronted him that “the Holy Spirit fell upon them [Cornelius’ household], as upon us [the apostles] at the beginning” (At 11:15). The fact that the Spirit had fallen on them was evidence of the fact that the household of Cornelius actually spoke in discernible languages. The speaking in languages by the household of Cornelius was the same as the apostles’ speaking in languages in Acts 2. In Peter’s explanation to the Jerusalem brethren, therefore, he associated the experience of speaking in languages by the household of Cornelius with the languages of Acts 2. Cornelius and his house, therefore, spoke in actual languages, not in gibberish sounds.
2. The household of Cornelius was heard to be glorifying God. If the Jews who were present in Cornelius’ house could not understand what Cornelius and his household were speaking, then how could they have known what they were saying? Acts 10:46 plainly states that they heard them magnify God. If the languages were some unknown hysterical gibberish, then they would not have known if they were magnifying God.
Because of the fact that the attending Jews who had gone to the house of Cornelius with Peter could understand what the Gentiles were speaking, indicates that the Gentiles spoke in Hebrew, or Arabic. As Gentiles, we assume that the household of Cornelius normally spoke the common language of all the Gentiles. But in this case, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to clearly speak in the dialect of those Jews who were present. This certainly must have been a startling experience for those Jews who were present.
The fact is that Cornelius and his household were speaking in a language that they had not beforehand studied. They were thus speaking in “a new languages” to them. This is why the speaking in languages in this context was a sign from God. The gift to speak in languages was a sign to the Jews that the Gentiles had a right to the message of the gospel and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As God had signalled to all the Jews with languages on the day of Pentecost that God had now turned to confirm the message of the gospel and those who obey it, so He also confirmed to the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles also were to be included as obedient subjects of the kingdom reign of Jesus.
C. Languages spoken in Ephesus:
When Paul came to Ephesus in Acts 19, he found about twelve disciples who had not been baptized in the name of Jesus. After he had taught them, and “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (At 19:5), Paul laid hands on them. As a result of the laying on of Paul’s hands, “the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues [glossa] and prophesied” (At 19:6).
Paul’s authority to lay hands on them in order that they receive the gift of speaking in languages manifested proof that he was a Christ-sent apostle. Paul here gave them the “sign of an apostle” about which he spoke in 2 Corinthians 12:12. According to Mark 16:20, their speaking in languages after he had laid hands on them proved that he was from God. The speaking in languages by the Ephesians, therefore, was also a fulfillment of the promises of Joel 2:23-32 and Mark 16:17.
The speaking in tongues in Acts 19:6 is not defined in the immediate context to be a spoken language. However, tongues do not need to be defined. In recording the incident, Luke assumed that Theophilus—the one to whom Acts was addressed—would use common sense in order to understand that the tongues here were the same as the miraculous events in the contexts of chapters 2 and 10.
Luke was writing to Theophilus who undoubtedly did not have any other New Testament documents in hand than the letters of Luke and Acts. Therefore, from how Luke defined the speaking in languages in Acts 2, he knew that Theophilus would conclude that the actual languages of men were under discussion in chapters 10,11 and 19. Since Luke connected the events of the speaking in languages as inspired speaking, then he assumed that Theophilus could make the connection of the apostles’ speaking languages in Acts 2. We must understand these chapters in the same manner. Acts 2 is the dictionary on languages throughout the New Testament.
In the context of Acts 19, Theophilus would understand the speaking of the Ephesians as the speaking in the languages of men. Luke would certainly not be stating that Acts 2 and 10 were references to languages, and at the same time, and without explanation, infer that the Ephesians spoke in some hysterical gibberish sounds as drunken people. We must understand the context of Acts 19 as Theophilus would have understood it. To be consistent, we must allow Acts 2 to be the dictionary. In doing this we understand that the speaking in tongues in Acts 19 was the speaking in languages that the Ephesians had not studied.
In the New Testament there are four recorded cases when men and women spoke in each of these cases, we can clearly define the meaning of tongues and the purpose of the gift in the context of the evangelistic work of the early disciples.
A. Languages spoken in Jerusalem:
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13, Jews and proselytes to Judaism from every nation of the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem (At 2:9-11). The apostles were in an upper room in Jerusalem on this day when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit and began to “speak with other tongues [glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (At 2:4). Verse 6 states that “everyone heard them speak in his own language [dialekto].” Those who were present asked about what was happening, “and how is it that we hear, each in our own language [dialekto] in which we were born?” (At 2:8). They also stated, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues [glossais] the wonderful works of God” (At 2:11). If one would simply read these verses without reading into them any modern-day ecstatic gibberish sounds, then we would clearly understand that Luke was describing a miraculous endowment of speaking in languages that was received by the apostles when they were baptized in the Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to speak in the languages of the people who were present. The people heard them speak in their own dialects the wonderful works of God. The people understood what was being said by the apostles because they said they did.
Luke records that they heard the apostles speaking the wonderful works of God. Therefore, the apostles were not speaking gibberish sounds because of some emotional state of hysteria. They were not speaking some language that was unknown to those who were present. They were speaking the wonderful works of God in the languages of the people who were present.
There is nothing difficult about understanding that the apostles miraculously received the ability from the Holy Spirit to speak the gospel on this occasion in “new languages” (Mk 16:17) to those who were present. They had not studied these languages in which they spoke. Therefore, we would conclude that the reason for the gift of languages for the apostles was evangelistic for the day. People from throughout the Roman Empire were present, many of whom spoke many different languages and dialects. These people needed to hear the wonderful works of God.
In the context of Acts 2, Luke used two different Greek words in reference to the languages that were spoken. The Greek word glossa is used in the plural (glossais) in verses 3,4,11 and 26. This word refers to a known foreign language. It is used in this manner in the context of these passages. The apostles were not speaking a language that was unknown to man. They were speaking known foreign languages that were new to them, for they had never before studied these languages. But the languages were not new to those who came from the areas where the languages were spoken. The people could have never discerned that they were speaking of the wonderful works of God if they did not understand the languages that the apostles used to explain these works.
In verse 4 the apostles “began to speak with other tongues [glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The tongues here are defined in verse 11 where the word glossais is used again. “We hear them speaking in our own tongues [glossais] the wonderful works of God.” Therefore, it is certain that the apostles were speaking in the languages of the people who were present from every nation. They were speaking languages that could be understood.
The Greek word dialektos is used in verses 6 and 8. This term can refer to either a dialect or language. It was used in this manner in the context of Acts 2. Those from every nation who heard and saw the apostles preaching, stated, “And how is it that we hear, each in our own language [dialekto] in which we were born?” Not only were the apostles speaking in the languages of the people who were present, they were also speaking in the dialects of the languages of the people.
A mother language may have several dialects that are unique to regions other than where a mother language is spoken. What seems to be indicated in the context of Acts 2 is that the apostles not only spoke the mother languages, but also the regional dialects of the mother languages. This fact may be what truly stimulated the curiosity of those who heard. They could not understand how these Galileans could fluently speak in their dialects.
From the use of the above two Greek words in the same context, it is evident that in some way Luke used glossa and dialektos interchangreably. Dialektos was used in verses 6 and 8. Glossa was used in verses 4 and 11. Both of these words were actually used by the people in the context that Luke records. In other words, the audience used these two words interchangeably in the context. Therefore, we would understand that these were synonymous words in the culture when used in reference to spoken languages. At least we must conclude that the people not only heard their languages spoken (glossa), but they also heard the derivatives of their languages (dialects) spoken.
The miracle of the apostles speaking in languages was magnified in the sense that the Spirit not only inspired languages to be spoken, He also inspired all the dialects of the mother languages to be spoken.
The Jews in Acts 2 came from areas where hysterical (or, ecstatic) gibberish was undoubtedly practiced among idolatrous religions. However, when they came to Jerusalem and experienced the events of Acts 2, they recognized that the languages that the apostles spoke were the languages of their homelands. The apostles were not speaking hysterical nonsense. They were speaking the actual languages of the people who were present. The proclamation of those who heard on the day of Pentecost proves that the “tongues” that the apostles spoke were languages.
In Acts 2:13 Luke recorded, “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine.’” This statement has been used by some to affirm that the apostles were actually speaking in gibberish sounds that sounded like men who were drunk. But this was not the case.
We must keep in mind that the apostles were speaking in different languages. Those from Parthia would not have understood the language that was spoken by those from Libya. Those from Galilee, who knew that the apostles were from Galilee, would likewise not understand either of the languages of those from Parthia and Egypt. To them, the apostles’ speaking in any other language than what they understood would only sound like men who were drunk. And drunk men speak gibberish sounds. Therefore, the irreverent mockers dismissed as drunken the apostles who were speaking in a language that they did not understand.
This event of the apostles’ speaking in “tongues” on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 becomes the dictionary to define the rest of the New Testament when “tongues” are discussed. This is a consistent manner by which we must allow the Bible to interpret itself. Therefore, when we come to the next three records of miraculous speaking in languages, we must understand these biblical contexts from the commentary text of Acts 2.
I was recently and unpleasantly startled as those disciples on a stormy Sea of Galilee when Jesus came wandering to them on water between the lashing waves of the night. As those disciples were shocked, I too thought I saw a ghost in the night.
It had been a very long day that began when I was rudely interrupted from my dreams at 4:00am. But after the toil of another long day, the stars of the night were finally about to twinkle on as I prepared to relinquish my labored body to another moment of sweet solitude in the midst of another enchanting forest of trees.
The pestering monkeys of that far away location had finally given up their relentless raid on my exposed food in the back of the White Rhino (my truck). They had deviously cheated me out of some of my precious vitals because I had carelessly left my window open. But now everything was calm. The monkey wars were over and I was now alone in order to shut down a nervous system that had experienced too much in a single day for an old man.
The firmament of the heavens had now darkened. The wondrous canopy of twinkling stars now began their majestic performance in the absence of the sun, with the cheering audience of the moon and myself in attention. So as I shuffled this and that as an encircling mother animal preparing her nest for her little ones for the night, I glanced to my left and briefly noticed a “white tree stump” at a near distance. It was there in the dim light that only heavenly bodies can provide. In the moment, I thought nothing of the mysterious apparition, but wondered why a tree stump would give a dim glow of appearance in the night. Nevertheless, I took no more notice of the supposed imagination, and carried on with my nest preparations. I had already subconsciously cuddled up in a sleeping bag, ready for another adventure into the dreamland of sleep.
Once I had assured myself that I could nestle comfortably and safely in my nest, I again noticed that unusual “white tree stump.” I had not notice it there when I first parked amidst the trees of this newly discovered forest camp. Nevertheless, my curiosity took over. So I focused through the imposing night with an intense stare. The natural thing to do when one stares so intensely through aged eyes is to hunker down and focus. And then . . . I got the fright of my life. The “white tree stump” also hunkered down and stared back at me.
Now my heart was racing. Muscles tensed. Stomach knotted. I had long forgotten the slumber of a long day. I was shocked into a sudden reality that this was a creature! It was a creature in the night that had been standing off over there for some time, just observing cautiously my every move, possibly making some plan for attack.
A revengeful “ghost monkey” flashed through my vivid imagination, thinking that the illusive creature was going to lay claim to my settlement as soon as I dozed off into dreamland. With all the self-control that I could muster up for the moment, I held back doing what those disciples did centuries ago when they thought that they saw a ghost on the stormy Sea of Galilee. They cried out! My outcry was strenuously contained by a vocal system that had now gone dead for fright.
But then after assessing that my kitchen-utensil weapons and strategy would lead to conquest because the night creature was smaller than me, I concluded that I could overpower it by suffering only a few scratches and bites here and there in our mortal confrontation. So with very cautious steps, and cooking weapons in hand, I eased toward this ghost creature of the night whom I would fiend off from my settlement.
But then, something very unsettling happened. The ghostly “tree stump” also advanced by taking a step toward me. Even more frightening, and what seemed to be a two-edged sword, flipped up behind the advancing creature.
What could I do? I stopped breathing and prepared for a mortal conflict between a razor sharp two-edged sword and my dull cooking utensils. But then for a moment, we both stopped dead in our own tracks. In my mind I concluded that we both were waiting for an attack to come from the opposite party. But then again, the night creature commenced to enter into the war zone for conflict by moving forward. My mind was running wild. My knuckles whiten around my cooking weapons.
But then out of the silence of the night in this enchanted forest, I heard a familiar sound that totally disarmed me. It was the purring of a cat. As the ghost creature in the night cautiously approached closer, it was as if a thousand muscles in my body settled into tranquil neutrality. I was overcome with rejoicing and relief after being disarmed from a possible mortal confrontation with some creature of the wild. The mysterious creature was a ginger-colored “camp cat” who had flipped up his “two-edged” tale, not a sword in order to engage in conflict, but in peace talks. With his tale, he simply wanted to signal to me that we both should engage one another in peace.
I wondered what was going through his own mind as he too stood tense at a distance and surveyed the two-legged “night creature” who had invaded his settlement. After observing the nonthreatening behavior of this two-legged creature, he had first decided to stand at a distance in the night until the two-legged creature could reveal his intentions. And then, he took on the challenge of changing me. He came close, just as Jesus came close to me in order to transform the hostility of my ways into His ways.
It seems that I cannot make a long story short about this chance encounter in the night between two creatures of God in a far away forest. That cat knew how to draw out of me every ounce of affection I had to offer for animals. He drew righteousness out of me towards animals. In order to do this, he just came as close as possible. He threw himself down at my feet, and washed my feet with the silk of his cozy fir. I melted in response to the gesture of His affection. I could only lean down and scratch a head that could not show enough affection for me. He was the opposite of the character of the monkeys who could only think of what they could come and take. This curious cat only wanted to come and give his affection. What he received in response was only the serendipity of his affection.
So laying aside the kitchen weapons of my imagined carnal warfare, I had to return the favor for his affection. Jesus has washed my feet so many times, I cannot stop living in gratitude. Somehow I just keep looking for dirty feet. I keep loving because He keeps loving me.
Jesus did not stand at a distance and wish for me to respond with love. It was as John said, “We love because He first loved us.” There is nothing more powerful to stir love in our hearts than to see someone at our feet with a towel.
It was then that I remembered the words of my mother, words that she said more than once throughout my early years on the farm. “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” And for the night in that far away camp forest, that ghostly cat was my God-provided animal. I began to understand what my mother sought to teach her children with these precious words of Solomon. That cat drew out of me righteousness, that is, doing right in reference to one’s animal.
When we begin to understand that God so loved the world that He sent His beloved Son into a dark world of “sinful animals,” where there was no one worth such a love offering, it is then that we seek to emulate the same righteousness for any creature who is beneath us. The righteous man passes on the affection (love) that was extended toward him through the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross. As God regarded our life, so we regard the life of any animal.
So on that night I regarded my animal, a camp cat that had yearned for affection as I yearned for God’s love. That cat was no different than ourselves in reference to the loving grace of God. Throughout the night until I bedded down in my nest, he simply stayed as close as possible to my affection. He continued to roll on his back at my feet, awaiting any generous scratching that I might relish upon him. And finally, after a shared morsel of food for the night, I tucked myself comfortably away for my expected coma. As I lay down my head, I then wondered where my animal might go for the night.
After some time in dreamland, the first tweet of a morning bird signaled that the stars had given way to the rising sun that brought on another day. I looked outside my cocoon window and saw that the rising sun said I had had enough sleep. It was time to accomplish more for Him in the blessing of another day.
After morning prayer in bed for an hour or so, I began to wonder where my animal had rested for the night. That question did not linger long in my mind when I saw my animal come stretching out from under my vehicle. He had made his bed for the night under the vehicle of the one who had returned loving affection for him. That is what love does. We gravitate to those who hold dirty towels that have washed our feet.
So my animal resumed his normal unpretentious pose . . . sitting off over there at a distance, observing my preparation for my breakfast of coffee and porridge that I prepared for myself from my own food supply. The kettle steamed, the coffee was prepared, and the porridge was mixed in my bowl. My animal just sat there and observed all my narcissistic preparation for myself.
And then I had to surrender as my Lord surrendered for me. I had an extra bowl and milk. So into the bowl the milk was shared. I made only a glance at my animal, and he immediately came running to my love offering. He submerged himself in the milk with lapping that echoed throughout the trees. I likewise indulged myself in my bowl of porridge. We ate together.
I felt good about having regard for my animal that God had provided for me for the night. Whether a test, or just coincidence, my mother’s repetition of Solomon’s words throughout my young life continued to ring in my memory: “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” That ghost in the night extracted righteousness out of me. He was a stranger that now had become a friend. I envisioned heading down the road toward home with a two-edged ginger tail dangling out the back window.
Something happened on that morning that reminded me of all those selfish prayers that I had already uttered. I just kept asking God for this and that. I asked for a safe day of travel. I asked for opportunities to preach Jesus. I asked to bless or protect this person and that person. I asked Him to bless the mission that I was struggling to complete. I asked without end.
After my animal scarfed down the milk of blessing in his bowl, he look up at me with those squinted eyes, that could only mean one thing: “Please, my bowl is empty.” I looked into his desperation, wondering where he would ever get his next meal. That slightly titled head and squinting eyes broke down every power of resistance that I could muster. I relinquished.
I looked into my bowl that was still half full of porridge, looked at him, and then said, “You ask for my porridge also?” I knew his reply. It was by now as if there was a mental path of telepathy between two of us.
So I stooped down, scratched his head to draw again that precious purring, and then set down the remainder of my bowl of porridge before him. What else could I have done? I just think God invented purring to soften the hearts of those who have little regard for animals.
I am sometimes embarrassed because I keep asking, and asking, and asking God for so much. But the incredible thing that I try to comprehend is that He keeps setting down porridge before me. I keep purring through prayers of thanksgiving, and He keeps putting before me exceedingly, abundantly more than what I expect or deserve. “Thank you, Jesus.”
My response to His security is as those relieved disciples of Jesus on that now calm sea. Jesus entered into their boat, and only that which is natural, happened, “They worshiped Him.”