Last week we saw began to address written reports around the corporate Gatherings at Corinth. Paul will continue to address things coming up in their corporate Gatherings today. The main issue he addresses this week is the use of “gifts.” Particularly he is addressing “spiritual gifts”, and his desire is for the Corinthian Christians to not be ignorant—READ I Cor 12.1.
There are several challenges that arise when we think about gifts. One is the temptation to separate the “natural” and “supernatural” gifts. Paul will address this issue, because this separation teaches us something fundamental wrong about God. Others when they think about gifts are tempted to think much of themselves even if they would never express it. They also do not realize that this is fundamentally saying something about God.
You see friends the problem in our culture is we live in this achievement-performance-based culture that teaches us that if we want something we have to earn it. I have something then we need to work hard to maximize what we want out of it. This is contrary to Christian belief, and wars against what Paul will be teaching us today. Paul does not want us to be ignorant. He wants us to know the truth about “gifts”. He wants us to know where they come from, and what they are for. So let me summarize what I believe Paul wants us to understand about gifts...
Theme: Spiritual gifts can only be understood in light of the Gospel.
1. Gifts are meant to help everyone better understand the Lordship of Christ—I Cor 12.2-3
Before Paul addresses the issues of “gifts” he shines a light into the situation. And the first thing he wants to help the Corinthian Christians remember as they address this issue of “gifts” is who they once were—READ I Cor 12.2-3. At one time the Corinthian Christians were like everyone else in Corinth. They were blind to the truth about God. They were worshiping “mute” idols. While verse 3 can look confusing it is Paul simply reminding them they used to say with the rest of the world, “Jesus is accursed,” but now they say with every Christian everywhere, “Jesus is Lord.” Many scholars believe this statement, “Jesus is Lord,” was an early Christian creed. The creed is meant to convey a sense of unity among the believers.
There are two underlying thoughts Paul has about this “creed”—“Jesus is Lord.” The first thing Paul wants the Corinthians to remember is no one can say this creed unless the Holy Spirit comes and empowers them to do it. This is why Paul says, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” The second thing Paul wants the Corinthians to remember is they were once blind, separated by race, socio-economic status, and whatever other way the world would separate themselves. But Christians are united under one LORD. Our confession is meant to bring about unity into our community.
Everyone has a Lord of their life. Everyone has a governing principle or person that governs what they think, say, and do. Everyone has some concept or person they give their loyalty or allegiance to. For many their main allegiance is to themselves. For many it is about personal happiness, person fulfillment. But this type of thinking has no place in Christian community. We have one Lord, Jesus Christ. He is where our loyalties lie. So Paul does not want them to forget at one time that was not them, but now it is. This is why we must remember all the gifts we have been given are meant to help everyone better understand the Lordship of Christ. Before we move onto anything else we cannot forget that.
2. Gifts are given to us so we can display God’s Trinitarian identity—I Cor 12.4-7.
Paul uses a linguistic device of parallelism to help us understand the relationship between our “gifts” and the Trinity. While we are given a variety of gifts we have Spirit of God. While we all serve in different ways we have one Lord. While we have a variety of duties or activities we have one God. And Paul wants us to understand a couple things in the midst of this.
First, we need to understand what Paul means by “gifts,” and in order to get that we need to go back to I Cor 12.1. The ESV translates the original word for “gift” as “spiritual gift.” I believe this is right, because there are two types of “gifts” Paul is addressing in our text today. One is the types of gifts God gives throughout humanity. These are dispensed by what theologians call “common grace.” For instance, there are certain people who more athletic, musical, artistic, and etc. This is why Paul I believe says, “God who empowers them all in everyone.” That is important because ALL gifts come from God. Therefore, there is no such thing as “natural” gifts because all gifts are supernatural. While they are supernatural they are not all spiritual.
But once we become Christians God gives the Christians “spiritual gifts.” These are gifts that are not given to unbelievers or all of humanity. They are given only to the church. This is why Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” You see Spirit gives “spiritual gifts,” and unbelievers do not have the Spirit, therefore, they do not have spiritual gifts.
Second, the next thing Paul wants us to understand is what the purpose for these gifts. They were given, “...for the common good.” The gifts God has given us through the Holy Spirit are meant to bring about unity in the church. Yet, many today use the discussion around “gifts” as a means of separation just like the Corinthian Christians. The Corinthians were in a culture where if you had a experience of ecstasy, chills up your spin, then you were deemed as truly having a divine experience. With this type of thinking it becomes about the individual and the “common good.” They become the “super-spiritual”. Instead of bringing about unity it brings disunity.
It is for this very reason I believe Paul connects this issue to the Trinity. Within the Godhead we see different Persons, three distinct Persons, yet One God. When we think about our gifts it should be governed by our Trinitarian identity. While the Persons in the Trinity have various functions and roles this does not mean they think of themselves as more of than anyone else in the Godhead. Our Triune God has given His people various roles, functions, and gifts, and not to think more of ourselves. No, they were given to make much of God and to help build up each in God. So, if you a very studious person that is not for you. No, that gift was given to you to glorify God and help build up your fellow believers. Whatever gift you have is for the common good. We are to work in unison, using our various gifts, to express to the world around us the beauty of our Trinitarian God.
3. Gifts are to be viewed in light of the Gospel—I Cor 12.8-11.
Once we understand that we can finally appreciate and think through what our unique gifts are. As we briefly examine these various gifts notice throughout this list that Paul regular grounds these gifts in the Spirit. FIVE times Paul uses the word “Spirit” in I Cor 12.8-11. He wants us to truly understand these gifts are gifts from the Spirit of God. The reason he does this is to pound into our heads and hearts the same truth he reinforced at the beginning—these gifts cannot be earned. In our performance-achievement based culture this frightens them. Why? Because it is out of their control.
Friends, think about this, did you achieve the Gospel? Did you perform to win God’s favor? No, Romans 5.8 reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The Gospel was a display of the never-ending love of God. The Gospel was accomplished by abundant grace of God. You see that is what a “GIFT” is—GRACE. And the greatest act of love, the greatest gift given to us, is CHRIST!
All of these other gifts—wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues—fail in comparison to the gift given to us in Jesus. These gifts must be viewed in light of “JESUS IS LORD.” Only when we truly appreciate the Gospel will we truly understand the heart behind the “spiritual gifts.” The gifts the Spirit of God gives to His people are given to help display the grace and love of God to His people and the world around us.
The Greek word “gift” literally means grace. Therefore, I think our responsibility to God and each other is appreciate and recognize the various gifts or graces God is using in our community. As we see people grow or use different “spiritual gifts” in our community we ought to give glory to God and encourage our neighbor. This is why at Refuge we call this practicing, recognizing “evidence of God’s grace.” How often are you doing that friends? Make sure you take some time and recognize some evidence of God’s grace in your co-workers, family, neighbors, and all others in your path this week.