New people, New Power - 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Read- 'Rocking the Boat'- Max Lucado-p160.
(describes the church in terms of sailors on a boat).
Sadly that picture is so often true isn't it?- Christians in disharmony. And it certainly was true of the little church in the sea port of Corinth, as it is of many a church here in the seaport of Hull. It was a problem exacerbated by the sin of pride, a constant wanting to outdo each other in the business of one-upmanship. Corinth itself was a proud city, the chief Roman city in the area which was at its peak politically, but at an all time low morally. And not surprisingly this spilt over into the church, some of whose members had become specialists in spiritual presumption .Paul loves them, of course he does, but as we see in chapters 3 and 4 its as if Paul is saying ' You're so vain you probably think this letter isn't about you' to paraphrase Carly Simon. Now some previous correspondence had been going on between Paul and this church. And various issues have been raised by the Corinthians and throughout this letter Paul responds to some of these issues in order to get the Corinthians back on track, to correct some of their excesses and to prick the bubble of pride. And we know when Paul is replying to such an issue because he begins with the words 'Now about...' and the comes the teaching. So what is it about that Paul is now writing? Well, immediately we have a problem of translation. The NIV has in 12:1 .' Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I don't want you to be ignorant.' The trouble is, that is not what it says. The word for gifts- charismata- grace gifts- is not used here, although it appears in the rest of the chapter- v4,9,28,30 and 31. He uses a word which at root is 'pneuma'- 'spirit'- pneumatikon. So he could be saying, 'Look brothers and sisters about spiritual things, I don't want you to be uninformed' or it could be ' About spiritual people' I don't want you to be ignorant, that is, what really marks a spiritual person- you think one thing but I want to tell you something else.' Strictly speaking, on the whole the argument is in favour of taking it as 'spiritual things' and especially what is called the gift of speaking in tongues, because that seems to be the main focus of this whole section running from chapter 12- 14. It is quite clear that some Corinthian Christians who had this ability to speak in a foreign language which was not natural to them, as Paul puts it in 13: 1 'languages of men or of angels'- was being taken as a mark of real spirituality, as a superior gift. And while Paul does not deny that such a gift is from God, he is at pains to put this gift firmly in its place, he relativises its importance. For a start, he always places it at the bottom of the list of gifts, when some of the Corinthians would not doubt have it at the top- 12:10 and 12:28. In chapter 14: 18 he says that he speaks in more tongues than any one of them, but that he would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct people in the Gospel than 10,000 words in tongues. A little later on in 14: 20ff he points out that tongues are a sign for unbelievers not believers in that if an outsider comes into a church meeting where this uttering goes on en mass, they will say 'These people are bonkers, I'm out of here' and so will go away remaining in their unbelief. I think it was interesting that that was the reaction of the majority of the group on the Alpha programme shown on the TV -the strange goings on simply freaked them out. But if outsiders were to come in, says Paul, and hear a prophesy, that is, an intelligible declaration of God's Word, then communication will have taken place and some would come under conviction and may be saved. So from that point of view, gospel teaching is to be proffered over tongue speaking.
But at the end of the day it makes little difference to the flow of Paul's argument as to whether v1 is taken as spiritual things or spiritual people, because the final result is the same. You see, by some Corinthians taking tongue speaking as the gift then the possession of this gift will be taken as the mark of a spiritual person. The result-? Division- the creation of an inner circle and outer circle, a spiritual premier division and a spiritual underclass, those who have the gift and are in and those who do not have the gift and are out. And for the sake of the well being of the church and the cause of the Gospel Paul has to correct that. And that is what we see him doing here. It is a model of pastoral tact-he doesn't go in with both spiritual shotguns blazing away - saying you must not be doing this full stop. The answer to abuse is not no use ,but correct use. He gives a doctrinally reasoned case of how we are meant to function as God's people. And as always with Paul he tells us what matters matter So what is it that matters to a healthy functioning church and a truly spiritually alive Christian? Three things.
First, The Spirit always exalts Jesus-vv 1-3. (read). Do you see what Paul is doing here? He is pointing to the real hallmark of the possession of God's Spirit by drawing attention to what the Holy Spirit does or rather, enables us to do. Do you want to know what a real miracle is? It is not being enabled to speak in some strange ecstatic language, but it is being able to speak nonetheless. And it is what is spoken that is the amazing thing- that Jesus is Lord. Why is that amazing? Well, to understand that Paul reminds these people what they were only a few years ago. They were heathen, pagans, who for all their cleverness and sophistication were being led by the nose into the worship of idols that couldn't speak ,and you cannot get anything more stupid than that. And you can be quite sure that as with many pagan cults around at this time with their impressive priesthood's, priestesses, and rituals, many ecstatic utterances were being made. And it is quite probable that tongue speaking was also part of such rituals as with the cults of Dionysius and Cybele- after all there are some Muslims as well as some very strange cults in the Southern states of the USA which also exhibit this phenomena. Tongue speaking is neither here no there as a mark of God at work. And if one were to visit some of the pagan temples in Corinth with all the commotion and enthusiasm, some may have declared a curse upon Jesus, why else does Paul state what is otherwise the blindingly obvious? Now that is the real test of the Spirit says Paul. Not the form but the content, not the manner but the message. I guess from an outsiders point of view if tongue speaking is the major element of a religious meeting, then there may not have been much difference between going to a pagan temple or Christian church in Corinth- babbling is babbling. No says, Paul, that is what you were. Now something remarkable has happened, you are now enabled to confess Jesus as Lord. Once you were blinded and bound , steeped in superstition and sin, now you have been set free from those things when you heard the Gospel and received the Spirit, and the Spirit always leads us to Jesus. He does not exalt himself, he does not exalt us, he exalts the Son as Lord over all. So you are here tonight and you are a Christian. What is it that is remarkable about you? What is it that is a sure sign that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you? It is that from the heart you can say 'Jesus is Lord'. And let me say that if you cannot declare that, not just mouthing the words, a parrot can do that, not just going through the motions because your parents or your friends have taught you to, but if in your heart of heart you do not believe and so practice that Jesus is Lord, then no matter what experiences you may have had, no matter if you can perform the odd miracle or two- you do not have the Holy Spirit. And what you need to do is to pray for that miracle, to ask God to open your eyes so that you can make the confession, 'Jesus is my Lord.'
The second point Paul makes is this: The Diversity of gifts reflects the Trinity of God vv 4- 6 (read). You may not have noticed but we are not all the same in church and we do not all have the same gifts. And this diversity within the church has its roots in God. In terms of his purpose he loves variety. What does God do when he freezes water? He makes snow flakes, every single one of them is different. What do we do when we freeze water? We make ice cubes, everyone exactly the same as the other. Part of it is that we feel secure when we are only with people like us. What is more ,when we pick the criterion by which people can be part of our group it makes us feel powerful and superior-the result is a cowering uniformity which is not the same as unity.
But also in terms of God's being, let alone purpose, there is unity in diversity. There is one God but there are three persons within the Godhead, each person having a different function to perform within the overall economy of our salvation. The term 'gifts'- charismata- tells us what God the Spirit gives- they are love gifts. The term service, diakonia, ministries- tells us what the Son gives them for- service for others. The term workings or energisings -energemata- tells us how God the Father brings them into operation in our lives-by his power. So these gifts which come from God the Holy Spirit, are meant to enable us to express the servanthood of the Son and we are enabled to do so solely by the power of the God the Father.
So if within the being of the Godhead the different persons have different roles to play and yet all are equally God and so one- then we should not be surprised to see this being reflected within the family of God -the church?
Now do you see what a terrible thing it is to look down on a fellow Christian who doesn't have the gifts that you have but simply different ones? It means that we think God has got it wrong. That the Holy Spirit has given me the right gift, but somehow failed to give it to someone else. There is also often the unspoken thought that I have the gift as a matter of right-so it ceases to be a gift- I am especially privileged, I have been to the right meeting and mixed in the right circles and exercised just the right amount of faith and wow here it is I have this spectacular ability-in this case to speak in tongues. Can you even begin to imagine- without lapsing into blasphemy- the Holy Son of God thinking 'I am superior to the Holy Spirit' for at least I went to the cross. Or the Holy Spirit thinking I am superior to the Father for I move with power amongst people, knocking them down on the floor? Of course not. But you know, that is sometimes the impression his people give for that is how they behave. Christian pride is not only self-contradictory it is plain ugly. But when God is working properly through his people, as they freely offer themselves to him and each other in loving service, it is one of the most beautiful things in the whole wide world. Which brings us to Paul's third point- The gifts build up believers-vv 7-11.
Now note what Paul is saying here.
First, that all Christians have gifts, they are not the possession of a small elite- ' to each one the manifestation of the Spirit has been given'- v7. Why is that? Well because all Christians have been baptised by the Spirit and so has the Holy Spirit working through them- look further down at v13- 'For we were all baptised by One Spirit into one body.' If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit living within you and working through you, gifting you.
Secondly, not all Christians have all the gifts. Having given a sample list of gifts, which is certainly not an exhaustive list, Paul says in v11 'All these are the work of the one Spirit, and he gives them to each one has he determines.' The Sovereign Lord, exercises his right of discretion. We may desire certain gifts but we cannot demand them. That is why it is erroneous when some groups say unless you have this gift-tongue speaking or whatever, then you are not a full and complete Christian. The fact is you have the Holy Spirit because you trust in Jesus and that is all you need.
Thirdly, gifts are to be used and they are to be used as Paul puts it in v7 'for the common good'. Now let us be clear about what these gifts are that are to be used to help build up other Christians, the church. Sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that because they do not have more up front gifts like teaching, or more spectacular gifts, like speaking in tongues, they don't have any gifts. But Paul has already told us we do. That is because we make false dichotomy between 'natural gifts' and 'spiritual gifts'- when in fact for a Christian natural gifts can become spiritual gifts. Natural gifts are given by our Creator God anyway, but two things happen to some of these natural gifts when you become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, the motivation and direction of the use of the gifts changes. As Paul spells out in chapter 13, Christian love is to motivate us in using our gifts, and serving other believers determines the direction in which we use those gifts. Before I became a believer whatever gifts I had I simply used in the service of self. Oh I might help others on and off, but usually because there was some sort of prestige in it for me. That has to stop when you become a Christian. The use of gifts are meant to build up fellow believers, not put them down in order to puff us up, as was happening here. But in the second place, the Holy Spirit hightens our gifts. So when I was 14 years old I won a prize in a public speaking contest- that seemed to indicate I had some skills of oratory. Now God by his Spirit empowers that oratory to teach the Bible in his strength, not my own. You may have a gift in music, encouragement, administration, practical matters-called the gift of helps- I don't know what it is but you have gifts. Now the question is what are you doing with them? God has not saved us just to be pew fodder- that would have been a terrible reason for the giving of God's greatest charismata- his Son to die on a cross- wouldn't it? And yet....
Think of it like this. Just supposing I have been given a gift of a power drill for Christmas. There it is nicely wrapped in its box. What do I do. Well, I decide to lock it away in a cupboard and there it sits. Then a shelf falls down. But instead of getting out the drill, I just let the shelf hang. Well, when you think about it, I might as well not have been given the gift in the first place if I am not going to use it. My friends this church needs your gifts-whatever they are. That is why God has given them to you to be given away in service. We need more people to help keep up the fabric of this place, we need more singers, folk to welcome at the door, people to help us in our finances, teaching children- we still need a co- leader for Scramblers, student work, work amongst overseas people, hospitality, evangelism-the list is endless as is the work. And all it takes is for you to get up and say-but here I am, here are my gifts-what can I do?
A famous conductor once stopped a full symphony orchestra in full flight saying. 'Stop, I can't hear the piccolo.' God is like that. He has called us into his orchestra and he wants to hear us. The question is: are we audible or are we so loud that we are drowning out others? If Paul is right-and he is-then we are here tonight to minister to one another. What attitude do you come with? Is it- 'What will I take home with me?' or 'What can I bring to the meeting to give to others?' God is gifting you for our benefit and he means you to express that supremely when Christians gather together.
One of the joys of being a member of a church like this is that increasingly we are seeing 1 Corinthians 12 being realised more and more. The way many in this place give of themselves week after week I find to be simply moving, leading me to thank God for his grace gifts. I certainly don't want to let the side down and I am sure that you don't either-so tonight shall we recommit ourselves afresh to his glorious body in this place-the church- grateful that he ever looked upon us in his love, choosing us to be his fellow workers- saying to him -as the prophet Isaiah said all those years ago: 'Here I am ,send me.'
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