Spiritual Gifts: For the Common Good
I preached this sermon last Sunday as part of our emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I got sick halfway through writing it so I understand it is choppy. The only way I was able to preach it was through God’s Holy Spirit (seasonal allergies are at war with my nose and throat).
Text: 1 Corinthians 12
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This famous quote from our Declaration of Independence really means nothing. Equality is a sham. The status quo is actually status: who makes the most money, who has the right color of skin, who lives in the right neighborhood, who knows the right people, who lives in the right country, who believes the right things…these are measuring sticks used to size up our competition.
Today I’m not going to talk politics. If I ever do from the pulpit, tell me to sit down. Neither am I going to bash our society, though it could use a stern rebuke. We don’t expect our society to operate by the same standards as we do; it’s not a Christian society. The problem is when our societal norms become our church norms.
I’ve never heard these comments here, but they’re common in churches.
“He’s an usher. I wish I could be an usher.”
“I’m surprised she’s here today. I saw her car parked at the bar last night.”
“They’re on the leadership team. Why didn’t I get picked to be on it?”
“He’s black. Doesn’t he know they have churches for black people?”
“Did you hear about their kids? In trouble at school again. Such a shame.”
The questions we’ve been taught to ask in order to compare ourselves with others at school, work, or in our neighborhoods have permeated our churches. We’re more concerned about being better than others and we’ve forgotten what God thinks of us.
We’ve forgotten that God cares about each one of us the same.
Guess what? We’re not alone. There was a church in the New Testament that thought and acted the same way. It was the Corinthian Church.
Paul addressed this issue in his letter to them, 1 Corinthians. If you have a Bible, open it to 1 Corinthians 12. We’ll look at the whole chapter. Chapter 12 starts out:
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore, I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (vv. 1-3).
Here is what Paul is dealing with. This is a group of believers who were arrogant and proud. They did not understand spiritual gifts though they thought they did. They cared little for one another, and chaos erupted just about every time they got together. They valued knowledge and wisdom above all else. They believed that those who knew more about God were special. They also thought that this knowledge led directly to speaking in tongues.
This created a dichotomy between those with knowledge/wisdom and tongues and those without. The superior Christians and the inferior Christians.
So Paul gives them a gut check. He says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts.” This is really better translated, “spiritual things,” since the word just means pertaining to the spiritual realm. Paul’s sentence is a sarcastic rebuke to a bunch of people who thought they had it all together. Paul even acknowledges their prior experience in spiritual things in verse 2, how they had been led astray by idols. But really this is meant to say, “Hold on a second fellas. You have no idea what the Holy Spirit wants to do in you. Listen.”
He then gives them a spiritual litmus test: Those who speak by the Spirit cannot curse Jesus, and those who confess Jesus as Lord can only speak it through the Holy Spirit.
In a world like theirs, similar to ours, this litmus test was of utmost importance. With hundreds of gods to choose from, and everyone feeling like they’re a spiritual guru, this was and is one way to understand who’s a believer and who isn’t.
This litmus test had to come before Paul wrote about spiritual gifts. If they weren’t loving one another as Jesus commanded, they were in essence cursing Jesus. They claimed to speak by the Spirit (speaking in tongues) but were cursing Jesus by the way they took pride in their “spiritual arrival.” Paul needed to address the hypocrisy before teaching the truth about the Spirit and spiritual gifts.
Verses 4-6: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
His point is simple: To those of you who value tongues and knowledge so much, you’re missing out on everything else. There are many gifts, many types of service, and many types of workings. But only one God.
Spiritual gifts are only for the believer. Though Paul says God works them out in all men, we have to look at that in the context of what He is talking about. He just said they had been led astray by idols in their past. He just said that only people with the Holy Spirit can claim Jesus as Lord.
Verses 7-11: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
Paul’s basic point here is stated in verse 7: Spiritual gifts are given to each person for the common good. Each person receives a gift from the Spirit. It’s not something we can work for, not something only the spiritually elite have, and not something to be wasted or hoarded. Your spiritual gift is for the common good.
Yesterday we had the first “Fearfully and Wonderfully” Made class. And we talked about how wasting our gift is a sin. It is. Matthew 25 tells the story of the talents. The master went away on business, but before he left he gave his servants talents (money). One used the five to earn five more; another used the two to earn two more. But one buried his one talent in the ground, thinking his master would be proud of his shrewd business move. Instead his master rebuked him: “You wicked, lazy servant! You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
Paul here says that our spiritual gifts, given to us by the Spirit, are for the COMMON good. No burying or wasting. They’re for the body of Christ.
He goes on to illustrate his point in verses 12-26.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
The metaphor of a body for a bunch of people was common. Except it was generally not used in this way. The secular world used it to keep people of lower social class in their place so they wouldn’t rise up against the powerful social class.
Paul pulls a 180, saying things like, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free,” transcending social classes. So instead of everyone trying to become the part of the body that was craved—the head—it was okay to be something else. Not just okay, but necessary.
If everyone is an eye, how can the body hear?
And here’s the point. There must be both diversity and interdependence within the body of Christ. You have to have eyes, ears, fingers, etc. that are different from one another, and yet they all depend on one another.
Your gift isn’t any more special than mine. Mine isn’t any more special than yours. I can’t be a Christian on my own; neither can you.
To summarize, let me give you ten truths about spiritual gifts.
Only believers have spiritual gifts.
Every Christian has at least one gift.
No one receives all the gifts.
No single gift is given to everyone.
You can’t work for a spiritual gift, or it wouldn’t be a gift.
The Holy Spirit decides what gifts I get.
Knowing and accepting the gifts given to me allows me to have an accurate view of myself and my part in Christ’s body.
I am to develop the gifts God gave me.
It is a sin to waste the gifts God gave me.
The purpose of my spiritual gift is to edify the Body of Christ.