Bible readings Psalm 36: 5-10 & 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
On the 15th August 1960 at Nelson Maternity unit a little waif of a baby wriggled her way into the world born as the second child into a loving family… Yes that was me…. How about you where were you born….? Wow we're blessed with such a wonderfully diverse cultural family….
Now here’s the thing… how much say did you have as to where you were born? Or even straight after you were born did you take a look around and say…. No this isn’t for me, God I think you got this wrong!! Are you happy with where you were born? Maybe you think yours was the best place to be born and anyone not born where you are is a lesser person, or maybe you’re jealous of others you perceive were born in a better place than you?
I know it all seems a bit crazy, you and I know we have no control over where we are born… but this kind of craziness is very similar to what Paul was trying to sort out in our reading today.
The Corinthian church was pulsating with the wrong kind of pride and it was bringing division. People were claiming to be more elite, more significant because of the type of spiritual gifts they had, especially those who spoke in tongues… they felt they had arrived at a higher spiritual plain than others and were looking down on those who didn’t speak in tongues… Paul is at pains to point out they’ve got it all wrong… they are not the ones who determine what gifts they have, just as we have no power over where we are born equally we have no power over the spiritual gifts we are given that decision is God’s and God’s alone…
Paul says “what’s more these gifts aren’t given to make individuals look good but for the unity and building up of the church so it could carry God’s love to the world.
But lets back up… for those of you who weren’t here last week we celebrated Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We celebrated God’s purpose to redeem all cultures, all different people groups in the world and the Holy Spirit’s part in empowering us to speak the message of what God has done for us in Jesus to all who would listen in a way that they could understand.
We also touched on the gift of prophecy noting “prophecy is truth-telling. It is naming the places and ways where God intervenes or initiates in the world. It is a component of proclaiming the word of God and identifying God's salvation at work through Jesus Christ.” Prophecy interprets how present events might connect to God and God’s purposes in the world...
Today we are staying with the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit as Pentecost wasn’t a one off out pouring of the Holy Spirit and then the Holy Spirit left! Pentecost was a birthing of the church in the power of the Spirit but that power continues to be poured out into everyone who chooses to follow Jesus.
If I was to ask how are you and I embodying, or living out, the reality of Pentecost in our everyday lives what might our answer be, hold that question we will come back to it later?
In Paul’s setting there was a definite expectation of the ongoing work of the Spirit in believers’ lives both as individuals and as a corporate body, but as Richard Carlson observes “The problem is that some spiritual elitists have really messed this up. They have regarded their gifts of the Spirit as making them superior to other members of the Corinthian community.”
If we back up to the previous chapter we find it’s not only the use of spiritual gifts they’re mucking up, but they were also abusing the “Lord’s Supper” turning it into a meal about themselves. In 1 Cor 11:19-20 (NIV) Paul says “So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.”
It’s helpful for us to bear in mind that one of the central reasons Paul is writing to the Corinthians is to refocus them on the fact that they are a community of faith born through their common belief in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Spirit to be a signpost directing anyone who is looking to the Kingdom of God. As Karolyn Lewis says “One of the main critiques Paul lodges against the Corinthian congregation is their inability to live out the essential claim of a community founded in the Gospel. The ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ [in the power of the Spirit] unite every congregation of believers, for the sake of God's mission in the world, but also, for the sake of the building up of that particular community.”
In our reading this morning Paul is bringing the spiritual elitists back down to earth… Paul wants them to understand that in fact they don’t have a grasp at all on God and the work of God’s Spirit as the way they are living show’s they are out for themselves and their own self-promotion not for building up the church and making God known.
Paul wants the people to grasp the fact that there is only one God at work here in the form of God’s Holy Spirit… and the main purpose of the Spirit’s work here is to bring God’s healing salvation through Jesus to those in the church and to equip the church to make Jesus healing salvation known to others… this same Spirit does this by giving different gifts, as God decides to different people… Yes God gives rich diverse gifts but the point of this is to create unity in the faith community not rip it apart with division…
The Message 1 Cor 12:4-11 puts it this way, read with me, “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is.”
The Greek word for gifts here is charismata, which we get our English word charismatic from. Commentators note this word is rarely used outside of Paul’s letters and charis means “grace.” So for Paul these diverse gifts flow from the depths of God’s grace connecting us in a very real and deep way to what God has done for us in Jesus and connecting us in a very real and deep way to the presence of God in our midst through the gifts of the Spirit to each member of the faith community.... did you get that, each one... we are all graciously and freely given a spiritual gift to use for the good of each other.
Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 4:10-11 “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.”
But back to Paul, he’s saying there’s no way you can claim these gifts as your own possession or as a result of you being holier than anyone else, or as a product of your own talent. God given spiritual gifts were and will always be divine grace given gifts to each one of us for the good of all....
Paul goes on to use the analogy of the body to show there is no way one gift is superior to another. We all have a God given gift that works best in community with other believers and all are needed to make the body whole. He says in 20-21 “How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
For Paul each and everyone of us in the community of faith are spiritually gifted and its through our charismata that we recognize God’s presence through the work of God’s Spirit in our midst.
So, Paul goes on to speak about nine gifts that give us examples (not a complete list) of God’s Spirit at work among us.
Firstly, the gift of wisdom. This is a revelation of wisdom beyond our natural human wisdom. Wisdom that interprets current situations through the work of the cross and God’s plan to redeem all creation... in starting with Godly wisdom Paul was correcting the Corinthians in their wrong belief that they had already attained wisdom... but they’re not in any hierarchical order as every gift is important for the healthy functioning of the body.
Next is a message of knowledge which is a revelation of information for a person or a group that could not have been known by any natural means.
Great faith, the faith that trusts God to move no matter what the situation might look like and waits expectantly for results... this usually encompasses the gift of prayer.
Gifts of healing, the many different ways that God brings healing into situations.
Gifts of miracles, the demonstration of the power and action of God that goes beyond our natural laws.
The gift of Prophecy, a proclamation of God through an individual to encourage, exhort or comfort, helping them understand God’s actions in the world.
Discerning of Spirits, the God given ability to know when God’s Spirit is at work in a situation or whether people are being led astray by a smooth talker.
The gift of tongues, languages given by the Holy Spirit to enable people to worship God in a language the speaker doesn't understand themselves (but on occasions others might as in Pentecost)
Interpretation of tongues, the supernatural ability to express what has been spoken in tongues.
Romans 12 would add to that gifts of helping or serving, giving, leadership, compassion, teaching and exhorting...
Do you recognize yourself in there anywhere? If you don’t ask the Holy Spirit to show you and someone who knows you well what they see in you...
Now this doesn’t mean we only get one gift, God can gift any of us with any gift at any moment, but it menas that the power of the Holy Spirit will move through us most evidently through the gift that God has graciously given us.
What Paul wanted the Corinthians and us to grasp is.... just as its God who chooses where and when we are born physically, its God who chooses how he will make himself known to us and to the world through the gifts of the Spirit he blesses each one of us with and each gift is equally important.
Our Spiritual gifts are a deep gift of grace connecting us with God and each other and as such need to be respected even if we don’t understand them.
Our Spiritual gifts are as unique and extraordinary as God calls each one of us to be...but our gifts are given and empowered by the Spirit’s work among us, not anything to do with our merit.
Our spiritual gifts remind us God has not called us to be cookie cutter Christians' remind us we’re unified through the Spirit as a diverse community of faith. Unified through our belief in what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our spiritual gifts remind us that our spiritual giftedness is determined and worked by the Holy Spirit.
Our spiritual gifts remind us that they are not an end in themselves but are for the benefit of our faith family and God’s mission in the world.
Our Spiritual gifts remind us that every good and precious gift we have is a gift of grace from God including our initial gift of being born into God’s kingdom...
Where might we recognize God’s grace, God’s presence, God’s work among us today through the spiritual gifts we have been blessed with?
Where might we need to open ourselves afresh to the work of God’s Spirit in our midst?
Let us pray....