|The Holy Spirit, by Louis Comfort Tiffany|
Yesterday's sermon was drawn from the our New Testament reading, taken from Saint Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth, Chapter 12:1-11. In general, this letter leads like both a rebuke accompanied by remedial instruction. Chapter's 12 through 14 address the idea of "Spiritual Gifts", their purpose and place in the Church. Here's the message's manuscript:
Spiritual Gifts. The topic of Spiritual gifts is one that many in the church avoid for a number of reasons. I suspect that if we were survey the church at large this morning, we might encounter a range of thoughts as to how they operate, and just what their place in today’s church may be. Are the gifts for today? Do we still have Apostles in our midst? If Spiritual Gifts are still extant in the church, who has them? Do I possess a Spiritual Gift? Let’s pause here to consider some of these questions, and as we unpack these ideas, we’ll draw our thoughts from this morning’s Epistle, Saint Paul’s First Letter to the church in Corinth. I suspect that we’ll find his words to be both insightful and instructive.
The city of Corinth, which still exists today, has roots which stretched deep into antiquity past. It had been first settled prior to the second Millennium B.C. It’s rise to prominence around 800 B.C. paralleled Jerusalem’s glory days. It’s location on a narrow isthmus between the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas made her a natural crossroads for goods, thoughts, and religious practice. The Church in Corinth was planted by Saint Paul on his 2nd Missionary journey, following the Macedonian Call which diverted his intentions in what is now modern day Turkey. This was at a time that Christianity was beginning its transformation from a regional faith in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin into one that now had a beachhead on the European Continent. At the time of this first letter to the young church, Paul was addressing Believers who had been walking in the faith for only a handful years.
At this time, the Corinthian Church was in chaos, if not in outright crisis. She was dealing with a wide range of issues that were effecting her ability to grow and thrive as a healthy, reproductive church. They weren’t merely debating over the color of the drapes; these were problems that could pull the church apart at her seams. The church was divided along sectarian fault lines where groups were stating their allegiances to various apostles. Scandalous sin was being swept under the rug. Worship gatherings seemed to take place without a sense of purpose or direction and their celebration of the Eucharist bordered on Blasphemy. It’s no wonder that the Epistles to the Corinthians read the way do, both as a rebuke and like remedial instructions.
So in our time this morning let’s consider St. Paul’s words concerning these Spiritual Gifts, which the Father bestowed not only on the Corinthians, but to His Church in general. Too, I want to challenge you to consider your Spiritual Gift. And yes, every child of God has been entrusted with at least one Spiritual Gift.
The Corinthian’s were familiar with “Spiritual Gifts”, albeit counterfeit gifts (Vv. 1-2)
Saint Paul begins by acknowledging their knowledge and experience with what the Corinthians believed to be “Spiritual Gifts”, and in the same breath points to their counterfeit nature.
[1Co 12:1-2 ESV] 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.
Ancient Corinth was a city steeped in pagan worship and ritual, having the god Apollo as its patron deity. The worship of Apollo was significant in this region, and Corinth was also within a few hours sailing distance across the Corinthian Gulf to Delphi, the seat of Cult of Apollo, where the oracles like Pythia would prophesy. Itinerant prophets and prophetesses walked the streets, claiming to speak on behalf of the gods. Paul and Silas had an intimate knowledge of this fact, recalling their encounter with the street prophetess in Philippi, another devotee to Apollo. Paul speaks to the counterfeit nature of these “gifts”, their only purpose was to lead people away from the knowledge of the truth and into the bondage of idolatry. This isn’t a first century problem. There are several places in our own world today where pagan deities are still revered and false prophets and demonic utterances can be heard. Nascent Neopaganism is on the rise; it is our challenge even here in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia). It’s clearly a time for Followers of the Way to exercise Godly wisdom and discernment.
So, in light of this, Paul provides us with a litmus test of sorts that allows us to easily discern which manifestations of Spiritual Gifts are genuine, and which ones are false or counterfeit.
The mark of a true Spiritual Gift (V.3)
[1Co 12:3 ESV] 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.
Let’s consider for a moment how a gift will reflect the heart of the giver. Aside from the “gag” gifts we give on occasion, our gifts will nearly always reflect the esteem in which we hold the gift’s recipient. We see this dynamic in play with Spiritual Gifts and how they reflect the heart of the Holy Spirit. Let’s unpack this.
Jesus, speaking to His disciples, spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ described the many facets of the Spirit’s ministry as essentially bearing witness to the Son. Christ’s words also spoke of the Spirit as one who is the advocate and the comforter of the saint. So it should stand to reason that the one operating under the unction of the Holy Spirit would be constrained to declare the glories of God, rather than curse Him. And any alleged gift that would pull attention away from God the Son, or God the Father must be viewed suspiciously and considered to be a counterfeit.
A Variety of Gifts, Originating from one Giver Vv. 4-8)
[1Co 12:4-6 ESV] 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
As we read this passage, we risk a temptation to write it off as unnecessary redundancy, calling to mind that scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where Brother Maynard is providing instruction in the use of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Yet, we’re lead to believe that the seeming granularity in Paul’s words are both deliberate and instructive.
For a purely cultural context, the Corinthians existed in a pagan culture where the devout pagan worshipped a pantheon of twelve major gods, and scores of minor gods and demigods. In total these Corinthians would have been familiar with a pagan host approaching 360 separate entities. Each of these would have been patrons of any number trades, animals, or objects, and were believed to endow mortals with a wide range or gifts, blessings or curses. Yet the God of all creation was the sole wellspring of all true Spiritual Gifts. All who received them, received them by Him alone, by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Yet there are even more important reasons for Paul’s words.
In their spiritual immaturity, there were Corinthians who looked at this gifting as a source of personal pride. By their own imaginations, they were applying a pecking order to these gifts, believing that they conveyed a spiritual/moral superiority to the possessor. Saint Paul’s words deflated this carnal puffery. Each Spiritual Gift was truly unique, of incomparable value, and given to accomplish a specific purpose. No gift was of greater or lesser value. The Discerner wasn’t subordinate to the sharer of Wisdom. Nor was the Speaker of Tongues superior to the one who interpreted them.
Each of these gifts are given through the grace of God, that His Spirit can be expressed to the body of Christ, and to the world. These gifts differ, but their difference doesn’t diminish any of them.
Examples of these Gifts (Vv. 7-11)
[1Co 12:7-11 ESV] 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
These Spiritual Gifts haven’t been given to us for our own benefits, but rather given to the saint for the common good of the Body of Christ. In writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul speaks to how this common good is benefited when he declares that they’ve been given:
[Eph 4:12-14 ESV] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Saint Paul outlines other gifts, in addition to these, in Verse 29.
[1Co 12:28 ESV] 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
We alluded to the fact earlier, that there’s an ongoing debate today over the Gifts of the Spirit and their place in the Church. The Cessationists, those who contend that the Gifts ceased at the close of the Apostolic Age, will argue these gifts were for another time, and any charismatic manifestation is not only false but harmful. Conversely, there are those in Pentecostal/Charismatic schools who stridently contend that all of the Spiritual Gifts are extant in our time. The answer lies between the polar ends of this debate.
While its not our intent this morning, to wade into this debate, we can confidently state that many of these gifts in regular operation within the church, we also recognize that the absence of Spiritual gifts in the life of God’s church would leave her weak, ineffective, and sterile. God has gifted, and will continue to gift his church and his saints, until he brings all things to their conclusion.
So, there is a more relevant and more important discussion this morning concerning the Spiritual Gifts, and discussion poses some important questions: What’s your Spiritual Gift? Every follower of Christ has been gifted, yet there are many who’ve neither considered this truth, nor have sought to learn where they’ve been gifted.
So, this is my appeal to you this morning; what is your gift? If you’re wrestling with this question, I’d invite to visit one of our prayer teams in the rear of the church during Communion.