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Acts 4:29-31 (ESV)

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

This passage from Acts gives us insight into how the early church eagerly desired and prayed for God's miraculous intervention in evangelism, through healings, signs and wonders. Interestingly, this reminded me of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1:

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:31 ESV)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV)

Would it be accurate to say that Acts 4:29-31 is an illustrative example of what Paul meant by earnestly desiring spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1)?

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  • Being "filled with the Spirit" is no necessarily the same as receiving spiritual gifts. Balaam had the spiritual gift of prophecy but could hardly be described as being filled with the Spirit.
    – Dottard
    Apr 10, 2022 at 6:25
  • @Dottard - Oh, I meant their request for "healing, and signs and wonders" (verse 29). Were they praying for spiritual gifts?
    – user38524
    Apr 10, 2022 at 13:59

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The inquiry into the works of Holy Spirit requires careful consideration . In Acts 2:4, the disciples experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Why would they fill with the Holy Spirit once again in Act 4:31? Was the initial Pentecostal experience merely about empowering them to speak in tongues, and the courage to speak? Does the Holy Spirit require a refill?

In Act 4:29-30, the disciples prayed to the Lord to manifest wonders through the name of Jesus. Notably, they were not seeking to acquire spiritual gifts for healing or performing signs and wonders. The healing of a lame beggar by Peter, described in Acts 3:1-9 indicated they already possessed such abilities. Act 4:31 describes the place was shaken, and the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly, sounds like divine power was present. Caution is required against overly interpretation, lest we veer from truth.

It is possible shaking of the place was simply because the disciples were making noises to celebrate the Lord's victory. Peter and John had demonstrated the Holy Spirit empowerment, enable them to boldly proclaim God's word. Consequently, the entire room was rejoicing.

In contrast, the context in 1 Corinthians presents a different backdrop. The Corinthians eagerly sought spirit gifts. They believed that speaking in tongues, prophesying, and performing miracles were sign of their spiritual status. Aspiring to roles like apostles, prophets, or teachers became a testament to their status in the Church. Some even feigned possessing these gifts.

In response, Paul explained in 1 Cor 12:4, that diverse gifts originate from the same Spirit. Gifts are given for the greater good, not for personal acclaimation. Therefore, in 1 Cor 12:31, Paul emphasized that "LOVE" surpasses all gifts, urging everyone to earnestly desire it.

In 1 Cor 13:1-3, Paul further elaborated why "Love" is an essential element of all spiritual gifts;

1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NIV)

Paul's teaching echoes the two greatest commandments Jesus told in Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

The Bible teaches us that "God is love". When love dwells within our hearts, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit is within us. As articulated in 1 John 4:16, "Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them".

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The texts are: Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν and ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά. Literally drafted into English: “Now, concerning the spirituals” and “So, earnestly desire [or crave, or even burn for] the spirituals.”

It’s odd, in English, to pluralize an adjective and not also state the thing it modifies. The literal woodenness of the translations above reflect that awkwardness. So, perhaps “spiritual things” would be more explicit but still rather vague. Also, Greek words that end in ‘-τικος’ are like English words that end in ‘-ive’, Examples of these English words are: impulsive, conflictive, and abstractive. So, the idea behind ‘-ive’ is “to have the nature of, or be characterized by X”. The idea behind ‘-ἰκος’ is basically the same. See: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-τικός.

So, the topic Paul introduces in 1 Corinthians 12 and commands to have a high, emotional focus in 14 is “things which have the nature of or are characterized by spirit.”

Translators, or anyone approaching the text from an hermeneutical perspective, have had difficulty deciding how to exegete these verses because the object of the adjective has not been made explicit by the Greek text. Their question is always, “What are these ‘things’ that are characterized by spirit?” ‘Gifts’ are one possibility. I’d like to offer a different understanding. Something more general like, “spiritual things” or “spiritual activities.” Though that still requires more definition.

So, first, I’d like to answer a related question: If I see something that is spiritual, what would it look like? Paul answers that very question in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” My point here is that the spirit-tree produces fruit. We wouldn’t know what the tree is unless we look at what the fruit is. We see the fruit, we know what the tree is. What spirit production looks like is, “love, joy, peace...” And notice that none of items on the list are what should be called ‘miraculous’. The production of the spirit is not miraculous. That’s not to say that miracles don’t happen. It’s to caution against making that hermeneutical climb up the cliff without any exegetical anchors. We’ve set an anchor such that the nature of or the characteristics of spirit has to do with how people interact with people. More on that in a moment. So, we have an anchor for the relational nature; we don’t have an anchor for the miraculous.

And, also notice, that ‘love’ is first and is also a very prominent part of 1 Corinthians 12-14. In fact, it stars at the center position (chapter 13). Love is the core of what it means to be spiritual and it is the heart of spiritual activity.

Let me underscore this relational emphasis a different way. Ephesians 5:18, “be filled with the Spirit.” ‘Filled’ is the main verb; what follows are several participles. Participles are verbal modifiers, very much like adjectives or adverbs. Paul is modifying (or describing) what is meant by “filled with the Spirit,” by using several participles. The last participle is in verse 21, “ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ” (“submit/support one another in reverence to Christ”). Without getting into what ὑποτάσσω means (the participle), note what Paul does next. He lays out in detail what ὑποτάσσω looks like in key, social relationships: wife to husband, husband to wife, children to parents, parents to children, slaves to master, masters to slaves. That is, what started out as the imperative of “be filled with the Spirit” is modified by saying “be mutually supportive” which is then fleshed out (pun intended) in the real world as how people are to relate to people. And it’s all these human relationships are to be mutually supportive. Sounds just like Galatians 5:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 13. This is what spiritual activity looks like.

Now, I think Paul’s main point (at least, what I think his main point is) in 1 Corinthians 14 speaks directly to your question. A question I’ll reword as:

“Are the people being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit and... speak[ing] the word of God with boldness’ in Acts 4:29-31 an illustrative example of Paul’s statements about spiritual activity in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14?”

The answer is ‘yes’, but not the way you’re thinking. Spiritual activity is not necessarily miraculous. In fact, it’s almost always relational (and characterized by love, which is not the modernist or postmodernist definition of love, BTW). And, here, it’s directly connected to speaking what is true. Miracles are miraculous. They are not the normal day-to-day. And, you can’t be commanded to perform the miraculous. God does the miraculous. A miracle, by definition, can’t be explained by normal, let’s say, scientific, explanation. It’s God intervening in the natural world. And he does so to make a loud point. It’s God grabbing a hold of your shirt collars. People speaking truth is commanded even though it presents a bit of a conundrum when thought to be naturally normal. It has a bit of the miraculous in it. I can’t explain it here, but I think Paul refers to this conundrum in 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Now, let's deal directly with 1 Corinthians 14. Paul’s point there is that people are to speak the truth of God (aka the prophesy of prophecy) with clarity so that all may grow spiritually.

We, today, make the mistake when we think prophecy is always “predict future events.” It would mean that when used in a future oriented context. However, the vast majority of prophecy is the declaration of God’s will relative to a given present or past situation. It’s far more similar to a good, but bold, sermon than it is to a horoscope. Paul uses the word prophecy in this “God’s truth boldly stated” way in 1 Corinthians 14. Also, whatever one believes about glossolalia (aka tongues), Paul’s references to that activity stresses that the communication he wants to see must be clear communication. He even goes so far as to gently say that if you can’t rationally communicate what you have in mind, don’t bother speaking. The event in Acts 4 mirrors these same elements. The people spoke God's word boldly.

So, Paul’s emphasis in 1 Corinthians 14 has to do with clearly communicating God’s word to people, which is what Acts 4 says. That is, it’s inherently relational and is directly related to truth. I think this is the ‘yes’ to your question. However, my answer does not support the view that 1 Corinthians suggests the miraculous. The miraculous nature of Acts 4 is a separate activity (necessary in that context) and I don’t believe the miraculous is dealt with in 1 Corinthians 14. 1 Corinthians 14 has to do specifically with spiritual activity and is therefore Biblically and truthfully and lovingly relational. Bringing the miraculous into the spiritual activity of 1 Corinthians 14 clouds the main point of the text. Though relationships that work well are somewhat miracles in themselves.

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