“Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:1-3)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 12:1-3.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:1-3, ESV
This is the word of the Lord which is given to us in love.
This morning as we start a new section of 1st Corinthians, if you’ve been following along with the sermons from home, however you’ve been following, you know that we’ve been in a section where that Paul began in the last chapter that deals with corporate worship; how should Christians gather together and assemble together for corporate worship. The irony of course is that we were going through these passages when we were not able to worship together corporately.
Now we’re together and so we can resume this study as Paul begins his discussion on a new topic, within this larger section about corporate worship, and the section that Paul is beginning on here is dealing with spiritual gifts. However, before Paul gets to talk much about spiritual gifts, he’s going to lay a foundation; the bedrock of all Christian worship, our shared confession that Jesus is Lord.
Now Harvest Community Church is a confessional church. So, we have a detailed confession of faith where we have tried to pull together what the Bible teaches in various places on the main aspects of faith and of practice in life. We aren’t of confessional church simply because we gravitate toward theology or something like that. We’re a confessional church because of our belief that Christianity is fundamentally confessional. One of the clearest places we see this is here, that Christianity is summarized in this confession that Jesus is Lord.
Now our Lord Jesus teaches us something about this in John 4:23 he says that the father is seeking worshipers to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Because we’re commanded to worship in spirit, we know that Christian worship cannot just be head based, it also has to do with our heart, so we worship in spirit. Because it’s worshiping in truth our worship cannot just be heart based it has to do with our heads. As we think about it and get our minds around the truth that God bears witness to in the scriptures.
Paul is teaching us here about how these are two elements, spirit and truth, come together in our confession that Jesus is Lord. He explains here that confessing this, our confession of faith means more than just the repetition of words. We aren’t just saying these as though this was a magical formula that we could say and then everything would be okay. This is more than the merely correct theology, it’s certainly not less than correct theology, but it’s more than correct theology. This is a confession of our wholehearted, whole spirit, faith and trust and dependence on the truth of Christ.
What Paul also teaches us in this passage is that if Jesus Christ is Lord, is the object of our worship, if he’s the one that we’re looking to, that we’re depending upon, that we’re believing upon in faith as we confess this Christ is the object of our confessional worship. The Holy Spirit here is explicitly identified as the empowering agent of our confessional worship. We can’t really do this on our own unless the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts to give us the ability to worship in spirit and in truth.
Our big idea is this The Holy Spirit leads us to confess that Jesus is Lord.
We have three verses and we’ll consider them in three parts.
1. The Invisible Truth
2. The Idolatrous Lie
3. The Inspired Confession
The Invisible Truth
So, let’s go back to verse one, to start from the very beginning. Paul writes,
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 1 Corinthians 12:1, ESV
This phrase, “now concerning” is a phrase that Paul uses throughout this letter. We’ve already seen in a couple of times back in 7:1, 7:25, and then 8: 1, and we’ll see it again in 16:1 and then again in 16:12. This phrase, if we look at all the places where Paul uses it, it’s pretty clear that Paul uses this to introduce new subjects where he is addressing questions and enquiries and maybe statements that they themselves have made to him or asks of him. So, these are the Corinthian’s agenda items as opposed to what Paul wants to address at the church in Corinth.
Now we don’t know precisely what the Corinthians asked, we don’t have a copy of that letter. In fact, the words that Paul uses here, “now concerning” then there’s one word that’s translated here as spiritual gifts. This is actually a rather difficult word to translate because really if we could just define this as spirituals. We don’t really know what that mean.
One of a couple of things it could refer to is people, spiritual people. Paul uses this word four times in this letter to refer to spiritual people. Or this could refer to spiritual things, as six times this word is used to refer to spiritual things. Then in 1st Corinthians 15, this has to do with the difference between the natural body that we had in our original creation and the spiritual body that we will have at the resurrection from the dead. That’s probably not what Paul has in mind here. He probably is talking about other spiritual people or spiritual things. The word could go either way.
What’s important is that this word is not the same word that appears a little bit later in verse four and following. In verse four we see that Paul writes,
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
1 Corinthians 12:4, ESV
The word for “spiritual gifts” in verse four is a different word than in verse one, but this is where Paul is going.
Back in verse one it probably has something to do with other gifts or people, but Paul doesn’t use it here. The word that Paul uses here is a word that refers to the Holy Spirit’s work. The emphasis here is not on the manifestations of the gifts, or necessarily on the people in whom the Holy Spirit is working, but it’s on the work of the Holy Spirit himself.
We might actually translate this something like this, “Now concerning the work of the Holy Spirit within spiritual people.” Or “concerning the work of the Holy Spirit to give spiritual gifts.” Whichever direction we need to go. The point the Paul is making here is that true Christian worship, confessional worship, requires the work of the Holy Spirit. If we’re just gathering on our own, in our own strength, according to our own wisdom and thoughts, then we cannot enter into what Paul talks about here.
We need the Holy Spirit to worship in spirit, but we also need truth. We need truth and so Paul says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts”, the work of the Holy Spirit toward people and giving gifts, “brothers I do not want you to be uninformed.” He is saying I want you to know the truth.
In other words, there is a truth, but it’s not easily ascertained. It can’t be discovered by human wisdom and can’t be discovered in just by our own thinking about it. We have to receive this by the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So, we need the Spirit to lead us to in spiritual worship. We need the Spirit to lead us into truth. If we want to worship in spirit and truth, it will be from beginning to end a work of the Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul starts here saying.
Let’s talk about worship but understand from the very beginning that this is going to be focused on Jesus as Lord. We’ll get to that, and this is going to require the work of the Holy Spirit as well.
In the next two verses Paul explains this spiritual invisible truth as a contrast. He talks about the lie, what is not true, the lie of idolatry. That has to do with the speechlessness of idols, as we’ll see. Then he goes on to talk about what we should be saying, what we should be confessing, the inspired confession of the speech of Christians believers who are now led by the Holy Spirit in worship.
The Idolatrous Lie
So first we saw the invisible truth, now we come to the idolatrous lie. In verse 2 what Paul says is,
2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 1 Corinthians 12:2, ESV
Paul is saying when you were pagans, now importantly this word here is not a word that refers to the religious worship of these people, this is simply the word for nations. He is saying when you were of the nations. Very often this word for “pagans” is translated in the Bible as Gentiles.
The reason why it’s translated as pagans, is because Paul goes on to talk about the way that they worshipped idols in pagan worship, however the word here is Gentiles. The contrast isn’t between the religious systems of pagans versus the religious systems of Christians. The contrast is between Gentiles and Jews. We read this in one of the elements of our liturgy today when we read from the Old Testament and confess, “Oh Jacob and Israel.”
Now it’s convenient if your name happens to be Jacob, you don’t need to do much work to see how that relates to you in the text. He’s talking about the nation of Israel. What Paul says here offhandedly, he says this is so basic I don’t need to unpack this you. You used to be among the Gentiles, now you have been grafted into Israel.
There’s a complicated discussion about how the church relates to Israel. What Paul is revealing here in this comment is that those aren’t two very different groups of people, but rather the church is the expansion of the people of God, of Israel, into all of the tribes and languages and peoples and nations of the world.
Well Paul says when you were among the nations you were pagans. You used to be led astray to worshipping mute idols. Now if I were going to critique idolatry, if you were going to critique idolatry, I doubt either of us would think to critique the muteness, the speechlessness, of the idols.
Now we might say they were powerless, they were dead, they were worthless, and that would all be true. Yet Paul here wants to focus in on the muteness, the speechlessness, of the idols. He has a purpose for it. First of all, he’s reflecting what the rest of the Bible teaches about idols. For example, in Psalm 115:5 and Psalm 135:16, the psalmist says that their idols have mouths, but do not speak. There are these mouths carved, however finely or crudely, into these statues that the nation’s worship. They have mouths, but they do not speak, they’re mute, they’re speechless.
What Paul is doing here is contrasting the speechlessness of idolatry, with the speech oriented spiritual gifts given to the spiritual people who are Christians, led by the Spirit. If you peek ahead a little bit, this is where Paul is going in verse 8. Paul talks about through the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of wisdom, the gifts of knowledge, and then in verse 10, the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues.
Christianity is a talking religion; it is a speaking religion. The lie of idolatry is not actually a lie that is spoken and articulated. The lie of idolatry is that those idols can say nothing to us. They’re mute, they’re dumb, they’re speechless, they can’t speak for themselves.
There’s a theologian named G.K. Beale and he’s written probably one of the best books on the Biblical theology of idolatry. It’s called, “We Become What We Worship.” His thesis for that book is this that what people revere, worship, they resemble either for ruin or restoration.
When he talks about the speechlessness of idols, because that’s a theme that comes up throughout the Bible, he says if we worship those gods, those idolatrous gods, we begin to resemble them. They have no speech and therefore we have no speech, we have no revelation, we have no truth from outside of ourselves from God. We, resembling these mute idols, become deaf and blind and mute, without any ability to help ourselves or to help others. What people revere, they resemble either for ruin or restoration.
Paul saying formerly, you had no speech because you worshiped speechless idols. Now you worship a talking God. What’s happening now is that you have gifts that give you speech in worship. Our worship is speaking, it’s talking, it’s singing, it’s reading, it’s listening, it’s hearing. Christian worship is a speaking, word oriented, worship as we relate to God.
Yet Paul has a specific element of speech in mind and it’s where he goes in the third verse, to talk about the inspired confession we have, what the Holy Spirit is leading us to say in our worship.
The Inspired Confession
So, here’s our third point the inspired confession. In verse 3 Paul says,
3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:3, ESV
Earlier he said, “I don’t want you to be uninformed.” Then verse two we talked about them being led astray in the past. Now Paul tells them the truth. Now we know that this is very important Paul says I want you to understand this, but it’s actually very difficult to know what Paul is saying when he when he writes this phrase “Jesus is accursed”. Literally this is the word anathema.
You may have heard people talk about placing an anathema on someone, let that person be anathema. So, this could refer to someone rejecting Jesus as cursed. Anathema Jesus in the sense of rejecting him as cursed, as blasphemous. Specifically, this could be a reference to the Anathemas that the Jews pronounce against Jesus in their prayers.
This also could refer to maybe someone misunderstanding Paul’s teaching that we see in Galatians 3:13, where Paul reminds us that Christ became a curse for us. Now he was vindicated at the resurrection, he wasn’t cursed forever, he was raised from the dead. Someone may have misunderstood this and got carried away and started to pronounce something outside of the Spirit of God by saying Jesus is accursed.
Or this could also have the idea of a pagan notion. You see this sometimes in the pagans, when they would invoke their gods to curse their enemies. So, they may be saying, may Jesus curse, insert the blank, my enemy.
Well whatever he is saying here, Paul is very clearly saying that this is not the way that we relate to Jesus. This is not what we say about Jesus, this is not the way that we invoke the name of Jesus in our worship. He is not there to be used by us for our curses. He is certainly not to be cursed by us.
Instead the main point that he wants to say is that what we should be saying is that Jesus is Lord. This is our confession to proclaim, not that Jesus is accursed, but that he is Lord. Paul has something very important to tell us about us these words. They are more than words; this isn’t just something that I could give you a prompt and you could read it and you would be magically protected from any kind of condemnation from God’s holiness and wrath and justice.
What Paul is saying is that this confession is something that we can only truly make when it’s not just the truth, but it’s also the Spirit who is working inside of us so that this is our full faith, full spirit, full-hearted confession of faith. That work of transforming our hearts so that we confess that Jesus is Lord, is the work that only the Holy Spirit can do.
Leon Morris puts it this way, “The lordship of Christ is not a human discovery. We don’t discover it on our own. It is a discovery that is made and can be made only when the Spirit is at work in the heart.”
So again, this doesn’t refer merely to speaking words. Anyone could read these words off of the page. It’s not a magical formula, it’s a confession of faith, it’s a Spirit guided, Spirit lead, Spirit inspired, Spirit directed, Spirit empowered truth. This is what it means to worship in spirit and truth, because what the Bible teaches us about our confession is that it has to be something that we speak in worship with our mouths that reflects truly what’s going on in our hearts.
Probably the clearest place to see this is in Romans 10:9. How can someone be saved? What Paul says is,
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved
Romans 10:9, ESV
You’ve got to speak with your mouth what you believe in your heart, and that’s not possible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is faith that saves us, and our confession then is a part of the worship, the work of Christianity, where we confess what the Holy Spirit has led us to believe by faith in our hearts.
What we see here is the role of the Holy Spirit in the great work of redemption, where all three persons of the Trinity together are working in one completely inseparable act to bring sinners to salvation through faith in Christ. In this work the Father sent the Son into this world to accomplish our salvation.
In this work the Son was willingly sent, he went sent by the Father into this world, he took upon himself a true body and a reasonable soul. He was made like us in every respect under the law, except without sin. He obeyed and he suffered, and he bled, and he died, and he was buried under the power of death for three days. Then he was raised up from the grave, victory over sin death and the devil forever to accomplish that salvation for us.
That great message of what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ will wash over us, it will be meaningless to us. We may even understand the doctrine, but not trust it in our hearts.
The Holy Spirit then takes what Jesus has accomplished for us, being sent by the Father to do on our behalf, when the Holy Spirit takes that work and gives it to us. In John 16:15 Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit and he says,
15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:15, ESV
The Holy Spirit is the great treasure of the Trinity, taking the riches of God in the person of Jesus Christ and distributing them. It’s better than stimulus checks, he’s giving us all the riches of God in glory, to transform us from the heart, to be confessional worshipers who look to Jesus Christ as Lord in faith.
This is what we mean when we say that we are a confessional Church; that Christianity is fundamentally a confessional religion. Again, we have this thorough, extensive confession of faith that seeks to draw the full biblical message of all that God is teaching us concerning himself and what he requires of us. This is a confession of faith that we joyfully teach, preach, and practice because we believe from our hearts that it reflects what the Bible teaches.
However, this isn’t just academic learning. This isn’t just trivia to be memorized and recited on command. We are confessional because we’re looking to what’s reflected in this passage, for the Holy Spirit to take the Word of God that bears witness to Jesus’s lordship. We love it, we understand it, we believe it, we treasure it, we rejoice in it as the Holy Spirit directs us to confess that Jesus is Lord so that we may worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Well from this passage, three applications.
1. We must hear the word of the Lord. We serve a talking God, as C.S. Lewis described him. That’s something that is so overlooked, something that we take for granted, that God speaks to us. Yet God, as we study the word that he’s given us, tells us that he infinitely values his own speech. In Psalm 138:2 we read,
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
Psalm 138:2, ESV
God loves his word. He created us and all things that exist by his word. He gave us his law, his teaching, his instruction, his precepts by his word. Now in his word, the Bible, he gives us the gospel, the confession that Jesus is Lord and that he has conquered all things that stand between us and God; our sin, the world, the devil himself, by his own life, death, and resurrection. So that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father, alive forever, never again to die. He is going to bring all of us into heaven with him forever when we’re resurrected and put back on this resurrected, restored Earth in the new heavens and the new earth.
Our God from first to last is not a dumb, mute, idol. Our God speaks, he teaches us what we are to believe concerning God. He teaches us what duty he requires us. However, before we can talk about what we must say, we must hear the word the Lord. We must acknowledge that God speaks to us. We must talk about then what God gives us to hear. Hear the word of the Lord.
2. Not only hear the Lord but believe the word of the Lord. God’s word is his ultimate means of self-expression. If God wants us to know something, he doesn’t paint a picture about it, he doesn’t ask us to philosophically imagine it, he doesn’t give us a movie to watch, he speaks to us in his word. What he speaks to us, he wants us to believe. It’s in this sense of the word as the self-revelation of God’s fullness that we come to understand why God’s own Son is called the Word of God. In John 1:1 we read,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1, ESV
God reveals himself by his word, his written word that bears witness to his word who has made flesh for us, the Lord Jesus Christ. So, to believe in what the written word speaks, and the reason that we are using the written word so much in our worship, reading, listening, speaking, preaching, singing the word, is because this is where God leads us to worship and love Jesus by believing upon him.
The Scriptures bear witness to Christ as the Holy Spirit leads us to understand that Jesus is Lord. As we come to understand that it’s the same Holy Spirit who originally inspired this text of the Bible to bear witness to Jesus the Son of God, the Word of God, to tell us the story of what he did for us. Therefore, believe the word of the Lord, that is believe in Christ.
3. Receive the Holy Spirit. Believing the word of the Lord requires us first to receive the Holy Spirit. That’s not something that we can necessarily control. The spirit blows where he wishes. The Holy Spirit alone though, when he comes, he opens our eyes, he opens our ears, he softens our hearts. So that where we were formerly blind, and deaf, and hard hearted with hearts of stone in rebellion and sin, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us, leads us, transforms us, accomplishes his mission in us to lead us to faith in Jesus.
One of the most powerful things that we can do is to recognize that we are powerless to bring this about myself. Therefore, we need to look to the Holy Spirit in prayer. To pray, to ask that the Holy Spirit will illuminate, will give us eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand what he’s given us in the word that he himself inspired.
Pray that the Holy Spirit would apply, to give us all the treasures and riches that the Father has given us in the person of Jesus Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit lead us to confess that Jesus is Lord.
So, for unbelievers, if you’re exploring Christianity, you’re here you’re trying to understand this this. It doesn’t make sense what are we talking about when we talk about confessing in a different way than just reading the words on the page that Jesus is Lord. What would it mean to believe that, to depend upon that? Well one of the most biblical things you can do as long as you don’t understand is to ask for God’s help to understand. Ask that God himself, by his Spirit, could give you the ability to understand this, to make sense of this, and to believe in your heart, and to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him up from the dead so that you may be eternally saved.
This isn’t just something that happens on the front end of Christianity. All of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ should be ongoingly praying, asking that God’s Holy Spirit would be poured out upon us. We began our worship service that way, we began our sermon this way, praying that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on us to give us Christ through whom we are reconciled to the Father.
This also has to do with evangelism as we are trying to reach our friends, our family, our co-workers, those with whom we are studying in schools. We’re trying to reach them with the gospel. The first thing we must do is to pray, because no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit. So, pray that God will send the Holy Spirit to open their eyes, and ears, and to soften their hearts.
This is the word of the Lord that we believe, not just because it is true, but because the Holy Spirit shines a great spotlight on this so that not only do we see this truth, but so that by this truth we see all things in this world and in God’s word. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to give us what the work of the Son accomplished as the Son was sent by the Father. Hear the word of the Lord, believe the word of the Lord, and received the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray. Gracious Father, we ask that you would pour out your Spirit. Father we are weak and we are dependent upon you to show us the way that it could be true that a crucified man is not only your only begotten Son, but that he also was raised from the dead and has been exalted to your right hand and he is reigning as Lord over heaven and earth and over his church forever. We pray that if there any here who do not yet know and believe this, that you would lead us and lead them to see this truth and believe it and love it. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.