2020-10-11 The God Who Gives Gifts

The God Who Gives Gifts
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
October 11, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

I am the chief of sinners. In spite of my sinfulness, may I faithfully and truly proclaim your word. May I say only what you would have me to say. Holy Spirit open our eyes so that we may see; open our ears so we may hear your word; write your word on our hearts. This we ask in Christ’s name, amen.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, 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 want you to know 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.

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.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, r and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines[1]

We continue our study of 1 Corinthians this morning. Last week, we looked at 11:17-34. In that passage, Paul addressed an issue in the worship of the church in Corinth. There was division at the table of Christ. The Corinthians were dividing themselves up along various lines. They were dividing up along ethnic and cultural lines when they came to the table. The Romans ate together, excluding Greeks and Jews from their table. The Greeks ate with Greek, excluding Romans and Jews from their table. The Jews ate with Jews, excluding Greeks and Romans from their table.

They further continued dividing amongst themselves by dividing up further along party lines. Jews for Paul ate with other Jews for Paul, while excluding all others. Greeks for Apollos ate with other Greeks for Apollos, excluding everyone else. Romans for Cephas ate with other Romans for Cephas, excluding all others from the table.

And if that wasn’t enough division, they further divided the body by dividing along social lines. Only those who had means, shared their culture, and supported their pastor was allowed to eat during the Supper. Paul told them that in dividing the body like this, they were eating and drinking in an unworthy manner.

For the next two chapters, Paul addresses another division within the Corinthian church. He addresses the division that has erupted in the church over gifts. Sadly, the divisions found in the Church at Corinth are still present today in the church in America. For the last generation or so, we have divided up over the issue of gifts, especially the so-called charismatic gifts. Are those gifts still in operation today or have they ceased? Are those operations essential or are they peripheral? For the last generation, we have sadly divided over questions relating to charismatic gifts. This passage will help us address those issues.

Understanding the Basics of Spiritual Things

Paul begins by saying, “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.”  That is how the NIV translates that verse. The ESV translates it similarly saying, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed”. Most translations are similar. I mention this because in the Greek the word “gifts” isn’t there. The Greek literally says, “Now about the spiritual”. We need to add something. “Spiritual” is an adjective; a noun is needed for it to function properly in English. Almost all of the translators add the word “gifts” because the next couple of chapters deal with issues regarding gifts.

While I understand why the translators of the NIV and the ESV add the word “gifts”, I think it is better if we were to add the word “things” instead of “gifts”. I think it should say, “Now about the things of the Spirit, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant”. Why would I go against the translators of the NIV and the ESV? While gifts are a major topic in chapters 12-14, they’re not the only topic. He is addressing spiritual things. Pastor Kim Riddlebarger writes, “Paul’s topic in these three chapters is a proper understanding of spiritual things, of which the proper use of spiritual gifts plays a major role”.[2] Paul is talking about spiritual things, which include spiritual gifts. And before we can discuss spiritual gifts we need to understand the basics of spiritual things.

Paul writes, “You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know 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.”

Many of the Corinthians had come out of paganism. They worshiped idols; idols who couldn’t speak because they’re nothing (1 Cor. 8:4). And while they worshiped pagan idols, they worshiped in a pagan way. It was common for many pagans to engage in religious frenzies, falling into trances, and offer up ecstatic utterances.

And some of the Corinthians continued worshipping like that as Christians. They thought that for powerful worship, they needed to have ecstatic utterances. And it appears that some of the Corinthians would utter “Jesus be cursed”. They had been taught that Jesus bore the curse that believers deserve. Paul had written a few years earlier to Galatian believers that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole” (Gal. 3:13). He would have taught that to the Corinthians as well. On the cross, Jesus bore the curse of sin that believers deserve.

But some of them, in their ecstatic utterance, were going beyond that. They were saying that Jesus was accursed without any qualification.[3] They were saying “Jesus is the cursed one”. That is not something that someone filled with the Holy Spirit would ever say. Someone filled with the Holy Spirit – and only someone filled with the Holy Spirit – would confess that Jesus is the Lord.

This passage teaches us that only those who have been reborn by the work of the Holy Spirit can profess that Jesus is lord and that those persons would never call him the cursed one. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of believers to see that on the cross Jesus bore the curse that sin brings. The curse of sin is death. On the cross, Jesus died the death that each and every believer deserves; on the cross, Jesus died in the place of his Church. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of believers to see that.

And he then enables us to confess that Jesus is lord. To confess that Jesus is Lord is to confess that he is creator and redeemer. Only those who have been made alive by the inward working of the Holy Spirit are able to confess that.

God says in Ezekiel 36, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Jesus says something similar in John 3. There he says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” It is only those who have been given a heart of flesh by the Spirit of God that can confess that Jesus is lord. It is only through the Holy Spirit causing someone to be born again that someone can see Jesus bore the curse they deserve and that he is their redeemer.

We must begin with this simple and most basic truth before we discuss spiritual gifts. Without this foundation, any discussion on spiritual gifts is built on sinking sand. If we begin discussing spiritual gifts without this foundation, we begin to talk about spiritual gifts in a self-centered way; a way that makes the gifts about us. To understand the gifts that God has given to his Church, we must understand the most basic truth of spiritual things, that Jesus is lord. And for someone to confess that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

A Diversity of Gifts

The Apostle Paul continues writing, “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.”

Paul makes clear that God gives his Church a diversity of gifts, service, and work. These are charismata, gracious things. Spiritual gifts are gracious things given by God. They are not things on top of grace or better than grace; they are manifestations of God’s grace to us.[4] These charismata are gifts that God gives to his Church.

That is often hard for us. As Americans, we are a meritocracy. I tell all of the kids on my soccer team that if they want to play, they have to earn the right to play. They have to merit a spot on the field. We tell ourselves that if someone works hard, they can make something of themselves; they can merit a better life if they work hard.

Because we are such a meritocracy, we have a hard time simply receiving gifts. We give gifts when someone graduates from high school. That person has merited a high school diploma by meeting the requirements for graduation. And as a reward, we usually give them gifts. We tell kids that if they are good then they will receive gifts at Christmas while bad kids receive coal. We tell them, “If you merit it, we will give you gifts”. The team that wins the Super Bowl is given a gift of a free trip to Disney. They have earned that gift by winning.

But that’s not how God works. God freely gives gifts to his Church. Grace is not earned. You cannot earn God’s grace; you cannot merit God’s gifts. He freely and graciously gives gifts to believers simply because he does.

Paul gives us a partial list, here. He writes, “To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, r and to still another the interpretation of tongues.”

There are three categories of gifts listed here.[5] There are the prophetic gifts, the priestly gifts, and the kingly gifts. They relate to the three offices that Christ fulfills. The prophetic gifts are abilities based on understanding and articulating truth. These gifts include “message of wisdom”, “message of knowledge”, “prophecy”, “speaking in different kinds of tongues”, and “interpretation of tongues”. In other places gifts such as evangelism (Eph. 4:11), teaching (1 Cor. 12:29), and speaking (1 Pet. 4:10) are included in this category. These gifts are given so that the promises of God found in Scripture can be explained to all types of people.

Priestly gifts are abilities based on understanding and supplying the basic needs for God’s people. Priestly gifts include healing by the Holy Spirit and miracles. In the Greek, healing is actually plural. It probably refers to emotional and physical healings. Pastor Stephen Um says “anyone with this gift can be used as an instrument in which he can provide emotional, spiritual, or even physical healing. But the focus is not on the individual who has a special gift of healing but on his willingness to be a conduit of the givenness of the gift because God is the ultimate healer who will use the gift in a variety of ways.”[6] Some places also include serving (Rom. 12:7), encouraging (Rom. 12:8), sharing (Rom. 12:8), and helping (Rom. 12:8).

Kingly gifts are abilities based on understanding direction and needs of the people. Paul lists faith. The “faith” Paul mentions here isn’t saving faith. Every believer is given saving faith. The faith that he is talking about here is the ability to envision a clear a goal; the faith it takes to lead in difficult times and circumstances.

Some of these gifts have spurned serious debate over the last 40 years. In the last 40 years the charismatic movement has really taken off and has stirred debate over whether or not people speak in angelic languages, whether or not God further reveals things to people in prophecy, and whether or not people are able to miraculously heal another person.

There are three options here. One is that these gifts are still available and operative in the Church. A second is that the charismatic gifts ended after the age of the Apostles and the finalization of the biblical canon. A third option is to define these gifts are connected to things which happen in the Church today but are far more ordinary and mundane than often claimed.

I think the best option is the third option; that these gifts continue but are more ordinary and mundane than some claim. The point of prophecy is to proclaim the revelation of God. As Hebrews tells us, the final and full revelation is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews writes, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. As such prophecy is connected with preaching. The point of preaching is to show how all of Scripture either points us to Jesus or to show how it flows from him.

God gifts people with the gift of healing in that people desire care the well-being of others. We see that with doctors and nurses. They care for people’s physical well-being, healing them with knowledge of the body and medicine. I think these gifts continue today but in ordinary and more mundane ways.

Given for the Good of the Church

Clearly there is a diversity of gifts here in. Sadly Christians throughout the ages have treated certain gifts as though they’re more important than other gifts. Sometimes people think that gifts like teaching and preaching are more important than other gifts like serving, healing, and sharing. Sometimes people in more charismatic circles think the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy are more important than gifts like leadership, faith, and evangelism. When we treat certain gifts as though they’re more important, we diminish other gifts and say they’re not as valuable and good.

In the next section, Paul makes clear that all gifts are needed (12:22-24). In fact, there is equality between the diversity of gifts. Paul begins this section saying “the same Spirit … the same Lord … the same God”. He’s telling us that since God has graciously given all of these gifts then they’re all equally important. Every gift that God has given to his Church is important. How can the Church grow and minister if we ignore and undervalue the gifts that God has given us? All of the gifts that God has given to his Church have equal value. Paul will say a little later in this letter, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body… God arraigned the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” All gifts are important and valuable.

They’re important and valuable because all of the gifts that God has given are for the common good. Every gift is for the good of other believers. Each gift is meant to build up the Church. Sadly, many of the Corinthians were misusing the gifts that God had given them. That’ll be more clear in chapter 14. They were using certain gifts that God had given them to make themselves more important and to build them up as individuals at the expense of others.

The prophetic gifts are meant to instruct and build up believers in the knowledge of faith. The priestly gifts are meant to care for the well-being of believers, emotionally and physically. The kingly gifts are meant to be used so that elders in the Church can lead congregants in godliness.

As Kim Riddlebarger says, “If the end (goal) of these gifts is the service of others, then we should not depreciate what may appear mundane and unglamorous in the eyes of the world”.[7] Even mundane and unglamorous gifts are valuable because they meant to be used in service of others.

When I was in seminary, I interned at the church I grew up in over the summer. One week, several churches got together so that the youth could engage in service projects. We were staying at the church, with the boys sleeping in the basement. As we were turning the lights out, one of the drains began to spew fecal matter. I led the kids out of the basement into the gymnasium. While I did that, another adult began to mop up the drainage so it wouldn’t damage the kid’s gear.

That was an unglamorous job. In the eyes of the world, it’s mundane and often beneath people. Yet this man exemplified the gift of serving. And it was needed in that moment. We needed someone to try and clean up the mess while the plumber came to the church.

God has graciously given gifts to each and every believer. He has blessed you individually with one or more gift. Do you know that? If you don’t know what gift he has blessed you with, ask yourself “what do you like doing and what are you good at?” Typically, God blessed people with gifts and they find they enjoy using that gift and are good at using that gift. If you are terrified of public speaking, it’s unlikely God has given you the gift of preaching and teaching. If you love caring for people, making sure that their needs are met then God has blessed you with priestly gifts. God has given each and every one of you a gift.

You are to use that gift in Christ’s Church for the common good, which is the building up of believers. He didn’t give you your gift for your own glory. God has given you your particular gift(s) so that you might build up his Church. Are you using your gift here at MPC? There are formal ways to use the gifts that God has given you and there are informal ways. Use your gift to build up your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith.

[1] The New International Version. (1980). (1 Co 12:1–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Kim Riddlebarger, First Corinthians (Georgia; Tolle Lege Press, 2015), 308.

[3] Ibid, 311.

[4] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians (Illinois; Crossway, 2015), 212.

[5] Um, 215-216.

[6] Ibid, 216.

[7] Riddlebarger, 319.