As we explore the role of the Spirit player we need to look at the gifts he gives to the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Paul does just that, but it’s a passage that comes loaded with questions; is the gift of tongues still around today? What is the gift of prophecy? Does everyone have a gift? Are some of them still around today? How do they fit with the fruit of the Spirit? What is a message of wisdom?
This is one of those passages, and topics – gifts of the Spirit – about which people have lots of questions. The Corinthian church certainly had questions about it and Paul had lots to say to them about it, in fact ch12-14 are all about gifts and how, and how not, to use them.
Corinth is a church divided, turn back to ch1 Paul tells them not to divide over who their favourite preacher, not to indulge the celebrity cult (we really haven’t come very far from Corinth have we?), not to follow leaders but to follow Christ. In ch11 he rebukes them for the divisive way they eat the Lord’s Supper, as one family tucks into their John Lewis hamper with its caviar and Bollinger whilst another has nothing. And here ch12-14, Paul deals with divisions over gifts.
And the big issue seems to be over tongues – speaking in other languages – it appears 21 times in these two chapters. The Corinthians view of spiritual gifts is wrong, and it is dividing the church. They seem to see tongues as the top gift, the preserve of the spiritual elite, and the mark of the truly spiritual person. Anyone else with any other gift is second class. And on to top of that they use the gifts of the Spirit wrongly; ch14 is about how they use the gifts in their gathering; they are competitive, engaging in one up man ship, battling one another and tearing down rather than building one another up.
We need the book of Corinthians because we have the same issues today, in fact we come with some of the same misunderstandings and ideas and we need its medicine. It’s like a medicine cupboard – for a headache you take paracetamol, for indigestion you take antacids. So in Corinthians different chapters are the antidote, the remedy to certain problems.
The mark of the Spirit is confession not gifting (1-3)
What does it mean to be Spiritual? That seems to be the question and Paul lays the groundwork of understanding here(1). His argument goes like this – as pagans you were led to worship dumb idols, but the Holy Spirit leads to you to confess and worship “Jesus is Lord”. The mark of the Spirit being at work in your life is confessing Jesus; the spiritual person isn’t marked by specific gifts but by making this confession.
What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord? We have lost the radical nature of this; today it means naming him, a vague allegiance. But for the Jew in Corinth it meant leaving the synagogue, it meant confessing Jesus as God incarnate, it meant confessing that the Messiah had not come to free them politically and restore and rule Israel immediately but died cut off and accursed from God and Israel, and it means confessing to believing in his bodily resurrection. It was radical, there was one synagogue in a city and the Jewish community was built around it. To say Jesus is Lord would see you put out of the synagogue.
For the Pagan it was as radical, instead of Jesus being one god among many you were saying Jesus must be worshipped alone. This confession meant you were saying there are no other gods – all I worshipped before was wrong – and my whole life is now in his service.
Jesus is Lord – God made man who gave his life for me, rose from the dead and is enthroned as Lord of all. It’s a confession that isn’t just words but results in transformed living which shouts; he has risen and he rules, he has my undivided allegiance and is the absolute ruler over my life.
It is a confession of belief in something that is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Yet the Spirit brings this new birth, enables this conviction and confession, it is the mark of the spiritual person, not gifts.
This is not just a Corinthian problem, the idea that your gifts tell you how spiritual you are. I remember being at a Christian event some years ago and some people spoke in tongues and had other experiences whilst others didn’t. For those who didn’t it raised lots of questions; why not me? Am I not spiritual enough? Is it because of unconfessed sin? Do I not have enough faith? Am I not a Christian?
That is a wrong understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The mark of being spiritual, of being saved, of being filled with the spirit is not a gift, its not tongues it is not preaching or any other gift, it is confessing Jesus Christ as Lord with lip and life.
The mark of the Spiritual person is confession not gifting.
2. Gifts are given by the Spirit, for God’s glory not mine (4-6)
Having laid the groundwork Paul moves on. Every believer has the Spirit and God by the Spirit gives everyone different gifts. The words Paul uses here are deliberate; there is variety – grace gifts, different kinds of service or ministries, and different kinds of working or activity. And where do they all come from? They all come from the Holy Spirit and are offered in service of the Lord with God working through them.
It removes all boasting, it removes the idea of something being my gift. It is given by the Holy Spirit.
Imagine I gave you a really top present, I took you outside and there was a brand new Mini Cooper S, what would you say? You wouldn’t say “Wow, aren’t I great!” “Wow, I must be phenomenally clever.” You open it and it would testify to the generosity of the giver not of how great you are.
God by his Spirit distributes gifts, and those given gifts don’t testify to how spiritual the recipient is but they testify to the grace, love, goodness and majesty of the God who gives them.
Notice too that there is diversity in the gifts given; grace gifts, service and working. The Corinthians are all about particular up front gifts. But these are not all flashy gifts, they don’t even necessary look supernatural; for example service is used Acts 6 of the deacons waiting on tables, and in 2 Corinthians 8:4 to describe giving money to support brothers and sisters in need, giving money is a gift given by the Spirit. The spiritual gifts of giving and service, and working – activity.
Gifts are diverse and given by the Spirit for God’s glory and Christ’s service.
Gifts are given to build others up not to puff us up(7-11)
Look at (7) why does the Spirit give gifts? The Spirit shows himself at work in someone by giving gifts to that individual for the good of all. That is Paul’s emphasis here, it’s why v7, 11 top and tail this little section, and it is the bookend.
The Holy Spirit works in each believer revealing himself through the gifts he gives, through which God works, in service of Christ our Lord. And the church needs each person to utilise their gift if the church is to work properly.
Sometimes when watching or playing sport you will see someone and something is wrong, part of their body is not functioning properly so they can’t play on. Be it a broken metatarsal or the player who pulls up mid run because their hamstring has gone.
That is the image Paul uses of the church(12-26). Just as the body needs all its parts to work if it is to function properly so the church needs all its gifted members – and all members are gifted – to serve God for everyone’s good. If not the church is like the team playing on with a hamstrung player.
The purpose that God has gifted you for is the good of others. In Corinth the problem was a focus on my gift, what it says about me and my spiritual status and my right to use it when I want I want to use it and how I want to use it. In ch14 they are using gifts in competition, speaking over one another, not valuing the gifts of others, ripping the body apart not building it up. But they are reminded that these are not their gifts, they are gifts given into their stewardship by the Holy Spirit to build up the Church so it serves God.
Hence the variety in the list that Paul gives as examples (8-10), and that’s all it is, a list of exemplar gifts showing the variety the Spirit distributes so that God’s church will be built up. It is not an exhaustive list that’s why there are different lists elsewhere. There is no hierarchy, no one gift that is a badge of spiritual maturity.
Do you see the correction to the Corinthian thinking? The mark of the Spirit is confessing Christ, therefore all believers have the Spirit and God gives all believers gifts to use to for God’s glory to build others up.
How do you use your gift? (ch13)is the gift users manual. I wonder if you’ve ever been given a gift experience, you open the box and there is a booklet on how to use your gift experience. That’s ch13 of Corinthians it’s directions in how to use your gifts – you use them in love. This isn’t a wedding homily; it is a damning indictment of the failure of the Corinthians to love like this. As the Corinthians read this they weren’t smiling at a wedding service they were cringing in embarrassed conviction at their failure to love those around them in a gospel manner. It teaches us how to use the gifts God has given us – lovingly.
God gives gifts to his church by his Spirit for the good of others. Gifts don’t say something about the spirituality of the recipient but about the goodness of the giver. They are not given to divide but to unite as they are used in love.
We are so like the Corinthians; individualistic, concerned with our rights and our gifts and God would have us repent and change our thinking. Sometimes it results in gift envy – people long to have not the gift God has wisely given them but the gift someone else has. We need to repent and learn to think biblically about gifts.
The person who sets out the chairs, who cooks a meal for someone, who opens their home, who sweeps the floor, is just as spiritual and gifted as the one who preaches or leads home group. And the church needs every part to be doing its work, using its Spirit given gifts in service of God for the good of the Church. We must avoid putting gifts or their bearers on pedestals.
But maybe you are sat there and you think but I don’t have any gifts or maybe I don’t know how to use them? Ask yourself these questions; What can I say or do to build up the church? What will encourage and strengthen those around me? And how can I show it in love? And then serve others, often it is as you engage in the church you discover your gift.
As a church we must encourage and facilitate people to use their gifts in a godly way, in a way that builds up, that is for the common good and that glorifies God. We mustn’t just fill existing ministries but look to enable people to use the gift God has given them.
If God gave you a gift you would accept it wouldn’t you, you wouldn’t turn round to God and say no I don’t really need it. As churches we need to be not just ready and willing to lovingly use our gifts but also to allow others to use theirs to serve us.
The mark of being spiritual is confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and living out that confession. It is lovingly using the variety of gifts that God has given for his glory and to build the church up.