It has been a while since we have looked in I Corinthians together, so I think it might be wise to briefly review the letter to this point. First, thing to keep in mind is we know from Acts 18 that Paul planted this church. He spent a significant amount time their helping them grow in their understanding of Christ. After Paul leaves he keeps in contact with some of his dear friends, and learns there are some serious problem in this church. Paul a man of deep concern and conviction decides to write them a letter. In I Cor 1-6 Paul address the “oral reports” that were given to him, but in I Cor 7-16 he addresses the matters they wrote to him about. These oral and written reports are covering certain topics, and I Cor 11-14 is addressing Corporate Worship, or Sunday Gatherings.
Paul wants to help the Corinthians understand several aspects of the Sunday Gathering, but one of those topics is the “gifts”. In order understand those we need to understand the different two main types of gifts Paul told us about last time—READ I Cor 12.1, 4. There are what we would call “natural gifts” and also “spiritual gifts.” There are certain gifts God has given to people that are not coupled with salvation and those are “natural gifts.” But the “spiritual gifts” are the unique gifts God has given to His people—the church. Everyone else in the world does not have them unless they have Christ. Paul is continuing to discuss that in the text we are looking at today. I think if there were one main theme Paul wants us to understand it would be....
Theme: God has given us various spiritual gifts in order to help us understand the unifying power of Christ.
1. Our Shared Experience—I Cor 12.12-13.
Paul opens this section by reminding the Corinthian Christians of the shared experiences they all have had—READ I Cor 12.12-13. Though we all are different we received the great spiritual gift—SALVATION—in Christ. We all experienced the grace of God through someone teaching us the meaning of His life, death, and resurrection. If you are someone who treasures that message, then that is a gift we share with people from all over the world. We share that gift with people from all over the world—from different backgrounds, personalities, and so much more. While we are all different we have become one family in Jesus Christ. We share the same Father—the Father of heaven and earth.
That is not the only “shared” experience we have, but we also share others. No matter what our theological conviction is on baptism, every Christian has been baptized. Some Christians say this supposed to happen before conversion, while others say it is supposed to happen after. But all have shared this experience.
There are some who would argue that the language in I Cor 12.13 is proof that we are supposed to share in a “second baptism”—a baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am not going to address that issue in its entirety here today, but I do not think this text is supports that view. There are others that might, but certainly not this one. What Paul is talking about in I Cor 12.13 is meant to remind the Corinthians that the Spirit of God changed their hearts toward God and the Gospel. That was not their own work, but an experience they all shared.
Isn’t it great when you have people in your life who can say, “Yes, I have felt that way too. I have had a similar experience.” People who have gone through cancer can understand each other better than people who haven’t. Christians who have experienced salvation will always be able to go deeper with each other than they can with non-Christians (at least we should).
2. Our Deformed Purposes—I Cor 12.14-20.
As we move into verses 14-20 I believe what we see here is a warning from our brother Paul. He uses a metaphor of the body to illustrate his point. Listen to what he says—READ I Cor 12.14-17. When we think deeply on the metaphor Paul is illustrating to us I believe it shows how tempted we are to view other people in the kingdom through a deformed sin-filled lens.
If we saw a big foot walking around talking to people you would say, “I don’t know what that is, but it is not human.” Yet what Paul is talking about we do in our hearts all the time. We look at different roles, gifts, personalities and give them a bigger place in our hearts than we should. We are all tempted to view human relationships in this deformed way.
Paul does not want this for us, because of what it says about God—READ I Cor 12.18. When elevate certain gifts, personalities, roles, or whatever in our hearts. When we do this we are determining their worth and value—functioning replacing God. We are attempting to place ourselves on the throne, and saying to God, “I got this. I will determine who is of value.” But the truth is God has distributed gifts, roles, personalities, races, and so much more to help us see HIM more clearly. When we don’t seek to understand and appreciate the purposes for which God has made others, then we develop deformed views of God, and deformed views of each other. The Divine purposes God has plotted out for us become deformed, warped, mutilated and crippled by our sin. God through the apostle Paul is telling us to turn from this sin and repent. So how do we do that?
3. Our Reformed Connection—I Cor 12.21-26.
I think the clearest way is to recognize our need for reformation. We need the Gospel to penetrate our hearts so deeply that the love of God will compel us to see what He sees more clearly. When we look at I Cor 12.21-26 we can some very practical statement for us on how to think about each other, but these statements lack life changing power unless they are read in light of the Gospel. Only when we deeply treasure the Gospel will these phrases having lasting meaning, valuable, and powerful purposes—READ I Cor 12.21-26.
Friends, Jesus Christ fulfills every meaningful statement in this text. Christ we deemed by the world as “weak”, yet I Cor 1.25 told us that the weakness of God is stronger than all human strength. Jesus displayed that weakness by willingly going to the Cross. God took was deemed by the world as dishonorable act and made Christ’s work on the Cross-the highest act in history. During His life Jesus was divisive controversial figure, but now it is under banner of Christ that all people everywhere are called into unifying community—“there is NO division in the body”. As Jesus Christ suffered we now suffer with Him. But like Christ our suffering is not meaningless or purposeless, no, it will be found to result in God-glorifying joy. Because Christ was honored by the Father we are promised we will be honored with Him. In this we will all rejoice together.
4. Our Various Divine Assignments—I Cor 12.27-31a.
READ I Cor 12.27—you see the beginning of this verse assumes you “Now” treasure the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It assumes that if you have been grafted into the family of God then you will understand God has given different Divine assignments—“spiritual gifts” as it were—to various people. We gather together as God’s people to help each other understand our assignments so we will grow into a deeper knowledge of who God is. In another text Paul clearly explains this to us:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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.—Ephesians 4.11-13
Our divine assignments are about helping us move into a deeper knowledge of Christ. These assignments are given to the church so we will treasure Christ more and more everyday.
These assignments are not about some individual internal experience, but for the building up of the body. It is not enough for you to understand your own gifts so you can grow in your affections for Christ, but we all need the Spirit of God to help us understand appreciate each others assignments. When that happens not only will we grow deeper into our relationship with God but we will also help others grow deeper as well.
When we understand the main purpose of “spiritual gifts” it helps us read the other details in the proper light. Let me give you one example that might been confusing for you in your Bible reading of this passage. This section ends with this, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” What was happening in Corinth was they were desiring or treasuring the gifts that were the most charismatic and flashy instead of useful. The first 3—apostles, prophets, teachers—are essentially a display of priority in redemptive history. For instance, it says in Acts 2 that the first Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. The apostles helped them understand the prophets, and now the teachers today help us understand both. We should all desire to be teachers, so we can teach others to understand the message of the apostles and prophets. Not all will have this gift in the same way, but all should be striving toward this end. Why? Once again it is because the apostles and prophets were given to the Church to help grow in our affections for Jesus Christ. The Divine assignments God has given us all are meant to help all people grow in their affections for Christ. In the context of Sunday Gatherings of the whole church it makes sense to give priority to the gifts that will help people grow deeper into understand the teachings of the apostles and prophets, so they can help build people into a fuller knowledge and appreciation of Jesus Christ.