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Sound Doctrine

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program.)

     It is good to be together again as we look into the Word of God. The title for the sermon is: “Sound Doctrine” and our text is from the New Testament, the book of Titus, chapter 2, verses 1 and 2.  Please listen to the Word of God.

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.  Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

This is the Word of God.  May we be obedient and share the principles of the Word of God with others.

     Our ‘Words of Life’ radio ministry receives letters from time to time from our listeners, mainly from West Africans, asking questions from us regarding biblical or belief issues.  Fairly recently we received three questions, two which are related and one concerning what “Churches of Christ believes.”

     In this lesson I’ll address each of these questions exactly as they are worded as prime examples of the type of questions we receive, especially from African listeners.  We’ll begin with addressing the question regarding what Churches of Christ believe regarding a certain teaching.  The question is actually in two parts: “Does speaking in unknown tongues still exist in today’s world and does the Churches of Christ believe in unknown tongues?”

     We must begin with attempting to define what “unknown tongues” means.  Whereas it is true that in the King James Version English translation, it reads as its’ recorded in First Corinthians 14:2 “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God:  for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.”  Greek language scholars of the original text state the word “unknown” is not in the original manuscripts of this passage but was added by the King James translators to emphasize that the tongue, or language being used was one that was not known, not understood to the rest of the Corinthian congregation.  The New International Version more accurately translates from Greek to English in First Corinthians 14:2 “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.  Indeed, no one understands him, he utters mysteries with his spirit.”

     Furthermore regarding “tongue” in this verse and passage, First Corinthians 14:2, and verses 4, 13, 14, 19, 27, for this context, there is a difference of interpretation as to whether “tongue” here refers to a different language from the speaker’s native language or an “ecstatic speech” which also has different interpretations such as a so-called “prayer tongue” to God uttered with his spirit or a so called “gibberish tongue” as to a pagan god.  These differing interpretations, and others, complicate accurately understanding this issue.

     So, regarding “does speaking in unknown tongues still exist in today’s world” there’s at least (3) major interpretations.  These are generally described in these ways.

  1. Cessationist interpretation: That supernatural gifts (for example tongues, miracles, prophecy) functioned only in the early church and are not to be practiced today.  God speaks today, through scripture.
  2. Continuationist interpretation: That supernatural gifts are given to every generation and should be practiced today but always tested according to the guidelines of scripture.
  3. Charismatic interpretation: That supernatural gifts are given to every generation.  Today’s revelations are valued but always secondary to scripture.  Supernatural manifestations are sought, but must show the fruit of the Spirit.

     Let’s consider the words of Bible scholar John MacArthur in his book Strange Fire, “In First Corinthians 13:8, Paul explained that ‘whether there are tongues, they will cease.’  The Greek verb used in that verse (pauo) means ‘to cease permanently.’  Indicating that the gift of tongues would come to an end once and for all.  The New Testament gift ceased after the apostolic age ended and has never returned.  To determine the point in church history when the miraculous and revelatory gifts would pass away, we must look elsewhere then First Corinthians 13 to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”

     This seems reasonable as support for the Cessationist interpretation that “unknown tongues” has ceased as a miraculous spiritual gift and was not intended for today.  As regarding Churches of Christ and their beliefs, they are independent congregations under local leaders only, that oversee teaching interpretations.  Generally speaking, to my knowledge, Churches of Christ believe “unknown tongues” were practiced miraculously in the early apostolic church but then ceased with the apostolic age.

     The second question is: “Your text Ephesians 6:18 praying always in the spirit, was the apostle Paul, one must always pray in the ‘spirit’ was he referring to the Holy Spirit or human spirit?”

     Ephesians 6:18 New International Version reads in full: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.  Always be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. “According to Bible scholars the early manuscripts of the Bible did not include punctuation marks nor capitalization.  Bible translators had to determine from the context, when and how to add these marks of reference.  In Ephesians 6:18 the major English translations (if not all) do capitalize Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 18.  For example, the Living Bible translation gives the sense of meaning for this verse as “…pray all the time.  Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes…”  To pray in the Spirit means Christians are to submit, surrender to their’ indwelling Holy Spirit to pray according to the will of God.  How can this be accomplished? 

     First, we should never pray in contradiction to scripture.  Secondly God has made provision for Christians as revealed in Romans 8:26-27 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searched our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

     Therefore, with the Holy Spirit helping us to pray we need not to be afraid when we pray to our God.  When we do not know how to pray, or know when the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  We should yield to allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for us in accordance with God’s will.  Nevertheless, we can always trust that God will answer what is best for every supplication, for every petition for everything we ask for even as we intercede for others. 

     Moreover, Romans 8:26 begins with “In the same way,” refers back to Romans 8:22-23 regarding “the whole creation has been groaning and we groan inwardly” meaning especially in our sufferings, as Christians, in our seeking restoration, the Holy Spirit helps.  Actually, in the original Greek grammar the Spirit ‘keeps on helping.’  That is in the way it was written in the original Greek language.

     These groans in Romans 8:26 have nothing to do with ‘praying in tongues.’   These groans are by the Holy Spirit, not Christians.  The Son of God, the Lord Jesus, continually intercedes for believers in God’s presence according to Romans 8:34 and the Holy Spirit also intercedes of believer’s behalf.  Therefore, we can take heart and trust what is written in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us than approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  We can approach the throne of grace with boldness and knowing that God our Father always knows best.

     The third question has some similarity referring to Ephesians 6:18. The question in part is: “I do always pray to God, but things seems to not be working out for me up to now; does God truly and actually still answer prayer?”  Yes, absolutely God does truly and actually still answer prayer.  Part of your question seems to expect God to always answer “yes”, always a positive answer, to your prayers.

     Although it is natural to always desire to get what we ask for.  That is simply not always God’s will for us –    certainly not all the time.  Sometimes’ God’s answer to us is “no” or “wait.”  As believing, persevering Christians we must trust God however and whenever he answers us.  And “no” or “wait” are answers too from God to our petitions.  Of course, I cannot know why God has not answered your prayer as you desire.  But there are many possibilities that are revealed in scripture concerning not getting a yes from God but maybe a no our wait.  For example, if you are not a Christian you need to receive Jesus Christ through genuine repentance and faith and be baptized (immersed in water) into Christ as a child of God.  Then you have a family relationship with Father God, you have a direct line, so to speak to God.  We are family in Christ Jesus as we speak to the Father, especially as we ask for something.

     Or, if you are a Christian you may have unconfessed, unrepented sin in your life which means you’re backslidden, broken fellowship with God.  You need to confess and repent (change) from your sin.  Psalm 66:18 “If I had cherished sin in my heart; the Lord would not have listened.”  However, First John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

     Another possibility is as according to James 4:3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  We all need to examine ourselves as to the reasons, the motivation, the attitude when we ask God for something.

     It may simply be that God delays in answering our petitions to teach us patience, more dependence on him, and to trust him more.  Whatever the reason we can be sure that God cares, and God loves us.  God proved this by sending his one and only unique Son to die on a cruel cross for our sins.

     God wants to be a Father to us all and as we are asking or Father that he would give us good gifts, including what we ask of him, but always according to his will and timing.  Again Ephesians 6:18 says “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

     So, as a Christian remember to pray, yielding to the Holy Spirit as he helps you to pray in God’s will and don’t only ask God for things but pray all kinds of prayers; prayers of thanksgiving, praise, and repentance.  Open your heard to God, He wants to hear from us daily.  Also remember not to pray only for yourself, but pray also for other Christians and those who need to become Christians.

     God always hears and honors these type prayers.  The more we talk to God the better we learn to pray appropriately.  The more we pray trusting God the closer we grow our relationship with him.  That’s well worth praying without ceasing.

     As we prayerfully study the Bible we should ask God to guide our minds and our hearts that we may know, that we may testify and teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.


                David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.

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