1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The church in Corinth was in trouble. With the infighting, the morally questionable activities, and all their theological disagreements, they needed some help. You would think that after Paul had spent a year and a half founding this church, that it would be all good to go, but it seems that just as soon as he left, things took a nosedive. So, the church did what it could at that point and wrote Paul a letter, laying out some of the controversy and asking for him to rule over the matters. 1 Corinthians is Paul’s reply to these early Christians. We’re jumping in fairly late in the letter, but we’re going to follow along over the next several weeks to the end.
The first thing we get to deal with is spiritual gifts. The Corinthians had some question about those gifts, just like we do. What are these spiritual gifts? Which one do I have? Which ones are better than the others? Which one is the best? All good, honest questions. All worth finding the answers to. All missing the point entirely. You see, the Corinthians had a bigger issue that needed to be addressed first before they could talk about what they wanted to talk about. They wanted to talk about the gifts, but they needed to hear about the Spirit. They wanted to talk about what divided them, but they needed to hear about what brings them together. They wanted the gifts, but they needed the Giver.
So, Paul starts off his response, not talking about spiritual gifts, but about the Spirit. If Jesus is Lord for you, the only way that has come about is by the Holy Spirit. You didn’t conjure faith in and of yourself. You didn’t earn God’s grace. You didn’t reason yourself into believing. God was at work through His Word, written on the pages of Scripture, spoken through friends and family, and proclaimed every week from this pulpit. The Holy Spirit changes unbelievers to believers. He takes non-Christians and turns them into Christians. He takes dead people and brings them to life. He takes the hardest substance known to man, the sin-encrusted human heart, and converts it to a living, beating heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. You saw it in action just a moment ago, when a child born of flesh and blood became a child born of the Spirit. The Spirit’s work may not be as flashy as we’d like it to be, but He is at work where He’s promised to be.
And without that Spirit, working in us, flowing through us, uniting us to one another, we have nothing. Without the Spirit, there are no spiritual gifts. So when those Corinthians started to make sideways glances at one another, comparing whatever gift you have with whatever gifts your neighbors have, they lost sight of what was truly important. We’re all on the same team. We’re all part of Christ’s body, which we’ll get into more next week. We are all Christian. To say that you or I have a more important role or a more prominent role misses the point entirely. The Holy Spirit binds all believers together and gives gifts, special talents and aptitudes, to His people when He wants and how He wants.
This is why Paul continues the way he does. “There are varieties of gifts, varieties of service, varieties of activities, but it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” It’s not for your sake or for my sake that we have these gifts, services, or activities, but for our good, together, as the Church, and as a community. If our gifts don’t somehow build up the body of Christ, we’re doing it wrong. If my sermons don’t convict you of your sin, proclaim to you the Gospel of Jesus, and encourage you for your walk of faith throughout the week, I’m doing it wrong. If you have a good head on your shoulders and have some insight as to how we might best serve one another and our community, but you keep it to yourself, you’re doing it wrong. You and I have been given tremendous gifts, wonderful blessings by God Himself. And we are called to use them for His purposes.
“For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Is Paul making His point clear enough? There is only one Holy Spirit. He gives His gifts to His people as He pleases. You’ve been given the gifts that you have for a reason. You may not know what that reason is right away. You may never find out what the reason is until you get to heaven. But you and I are called to use the gifts that God has given us so that He would be glorified in us.
So what are the spiritual gifts? What are the possibilities? Well, I wish I could tell you. Paul lists nine here, nine earlier in 1 Corinthians, seven in Romans, and four in Ephesians. None of the lists are the same. Some have unique items, some double them up, some leave certain gifts off. The Holy Spirit is tough to nail down like that. He gives people gifts according to what He wants them to have. There’s no hard and fast rule that can tell you what gift you do or don’t have because even the gifts themselves change. But the general rule of thumb to figure out your gift is simple. Get involved. Do a bunch of stuff. Study Scripture. Tell some people about Jesus. Get some real-life experience. Now, what went well in spite of yourself? What worked only by the grace of God? What do those wiser believers around you have to say about it? Answer these questions, and you may be on the right track. Believe it or not, I’m an introvert. Yet week after week, I get up in front of almost a hundred people and tell them about Jesus. Without some practice and the encouragement of many people along the way, some I know, many I didn’t, I would never be here. It’s only by the grace of God.
And that’s probably the best thing we can say about spiritual gifts. It’s only by the grace of God, the Spirit of God. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell