Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What' a Hypostatic Union?

I Corinthians 14:1-13

As a plumber, I was occasionally sent to homes where the only person home didn’t speak English. Since I speak some Spanish, and understand some Navajo, I could sometimes figure out what the problem was, or at least get them to show me where things were. Sometimes, I had to call our parts man for help with Spanish, or one of the secretaries for help with Navajo speakers. In such cases, frustration became a problem for both sides.

The early church was in contact with many ethnic groups, and needed to communicate in the different languages. While the gift of tongues, like the other spiritual gifts, was very valuable, it was becoming a problem in the church, and Paul addresses the problem.

“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 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. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” (I Corinthians 14:1-6)

Love is essential for every Christian, and all need to practice it. Spiritual gifts are needed, but the most valuable was that of telling people what God had said. Speaking in a language the others did not understand did not benefit any one except the one who spoke unless it was interpreted for the benefit of the others. Giving people a revelation from God, a prophecy, imparting some relevant knowledge, or teaching them what these things meant had value, but only if it was understood. If everyone spoke in other languages, they would be able to talk to everyone they met, but it would be better for everyone to share God’s word.

Unless a person is able to distinguish what a sound means, he has no clue what action to take. In towns where tornados are common, there is usually a siren sounded to alert people of the danger. Sirens are also sounded by police and fire trucks. If the people cannot tell which is which, they don’t know whether to get out of the way for a fire truck, or to run for the tornado shelter. The difference must be easily identifiable to prevent confusion and frustration.

“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.” (I Corinthians 14:7-13)

When I first started to college, I had no car, so I attended a church within walking distance my first Sunday. When the preacher stood up to preach, he said “I feel like the Lord wants me to preach about another subject, but since I announced this other, that’s what I’ll be preaching about.” If he wasn’t going to preach what God told him to, I really didn’t see any need to go back, so the following Sunday, I caught a ride to another church I had heard about.

The preacher preached about the Hypostatic Union, using a large number of words I had never heard. After church, one of the people asked “wasn’t that a wonderful message?” I had to admit I didn’t have a clue, because I didn’t know what he was talking about. The next Sunday I went back to the first church. At least I understood them. I might get something out of their service, and they didn’t make me feel stupid.

After graduating from FLC, I went to Baptist Bible college, and finally learned that Christ’s being both God and man was sometimes called the Hypostatic union. If the second preacher had cared enough to explain that in his message, I’d probably have continued to attend his church.

The goal is to edify the church, not to impress them with our linguistic skills. If we are going to have to speak in language they don’t understand, we need to pray that God will give us the ability to interpret it so that they can understand as well.

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