A Variety of Gifts
Upsetting the Equilibrium
Spoiler alert: There are things I am not good at. I’m not perfect and neither is this church. If you’re disappointed, I understand, but that is the way of communities. Everyone here is really bad at something and great at other things. One good example of this is volleyball: I am terrible at volleyball. I cannot stress how bad I am at playing it. My wife, however, is very good. So, as we look at gifts this morning, it is important to understand: you are bad at some things and that is okay. Turn to your neighbor and tell them one thing you are really bad at. Will you please turn to beginning in verse 1 and stand for the reading of God’s Word.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 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 discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
The Word of God for the people of God: you may be seated.
Analyzing the Discrepancy
Paul begins another section to the church in Corinth with what is most likely a question they brought up in a letter to him. He says in verse 1 and 2:
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
He reminds them of their past before they knew Christ. They were being swept off to heathen gods following their passions as they wished. Now, concerning spiritual things, the Corinthians are rooted in their relation to Jesus Christ. Paul tells them in verse 3
3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
The one criterion of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration is that it empowers one simple confession: “Jesus is Lord.” This has two important implications. First, anyone who utter that confessions (and believe it with their heart) is living within the sphere of the Holy Spirit’s power. Once that confession is made, the Holy Spirit begins its sanctifying work. It begins to move in each person. And as we know about the Corinthians from the past, certain individuals were exalting themselves because they possessed “superior” gifts, such as speaking in tongues or wisdom, and lorded it over others. Yet, Paul is clearly telling us here that these “superior” people should not suppose that others in the church who lack such gifting are strangers to the Spirit. In fact: all who are in Christ have entered the realm of the Spirit and no one should be despised.
The second implication, which is Paul’s immediate concern, is that discernment is necessary to understand what is an authentic spiritual experience and what is not. The only true spiritual experience is when the lordship of Jesus is authentically confessed. Then we know the Holy Spirit is at work. He gives a counter-example to prove this: no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “let Jesus be cursed.”
Now, we have no evidence that any of the Corinthian church members were actually saying this. Knowing Paul’s language from other writings, if it had I’m sure he would have told them to “Stop It.” Paul may also be recalling his former life as a prosecutor of the church and of Jesus Christ. In any case, he is using this to emphasize that those who are inspired by the Holy Spirit will speak and act in ways that glorify the lordship of Jesus.
And those who are in the Spirit will have other manifestations of the Spirit. Paul terms these these gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, he uses the word Charismata for these gifts. The beginning of this word is the Greek word for grace Charis. So, Paul’s understanding of spiritual gifts is that they are first signs of God’s free grace. Then he gives us a better understanding of these gifts as related to the person of God in verses 4-7:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
While Paul makes no explicit doctrine of the Trinity here, as it was not formally articulated until hundreds of years later, we can see that Paul experienced God as three in one. It is important to understand a distinction though: Paul is in no way assigning roles to the different person of the Triune Godhead. He is merely saying that these manifestation of our relationship with God has one single source. These three terms Paul uses to describe the working in the church are intended to broaden the Corinthians understanding of the work of God in their life. It’s not just the charismatic spiritual manifestations of the Spirit, but it also points to the humbler forms of service (who for Paul the Lord Jesus exemplifies this servanthood) and other various activities. Yet, in all this, it is one God who activates all of them.
And, in direct conflict with the Corinthians understanding, these manifestations of the Spirit are not meant to divide or to hold over other believers, but as Paul tells us in verse 7 that it is for the common good. These gifts are distributed by the Spirit in diverse ways. The church was never meant to consist of one type of person or gifting. It is made up of various individuals exercising different gifts and ministries for the common good.
Then, in verses 8-10 Paul gives a list of examples of the manifestations of the Spirit:
8 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 discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:
This is by no means an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts, because he gives us different examples in Romans and Ephesians, but these are given to represent the diversity of the workings of the Holy Spirit. However, there is significance in the grouping of these gifts. Paul uses two words that translates in English our “to another.” The first is the word allo which means another of the same kind and the other is hetero which means another of a different kind.
First, he says the Spirit has given wisdom and allo (or another of the same kind) the gift of knowledge. These are gifts in which the important Corinthians especially pride themselves. Wisdom refers to the insight into doctrinal truth and knowledge referes to the ability to apply doctrinal truth to life. They go hand in hand.
Then he uses the word hetero (or of a different kind) and groups faith, gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, and the discernment of spirits. Faith is beyond mere belief and shows an unusual measure of trust in God; or a faith that can move mountains. Healing goes with that and is the ability to restore health and also to hold off death temporarily. Working of miracles may refer to exorcising demons or inducing physical disability and death; as was evident in the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts. Prophecy is the ability to declare a message of God for His people. It is not foreknowledge, but forth-knowledge. Putting forth the declaration of God for His people. And discernment is being able to know if the Word of God is proclaimed by a true mouthpiece of God or by a deceiver. Each of these are grouped together by Paul
Finally, he again uses hetero and groups tongues and interpretation of tongues together. Tongues is the ability to speak an unlearned living language and interpretation is the ability to translate an unlearned language. They are symbiotic and cannot function without the other (as Paul tells us later in the letter to the Corinthians).
Then, Paul closes with a reiteration of his point in verse 11:
11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
1 Corinthians 12:11
Paul makes the important distinction: each person is given gifts and are alloted as the Spirit chooses. It is not something we do so that we can boast, but are given as God chooses for the good of the entire Body of Christ.
Disclosing the Clue to Resolution
In our culture, especially the Christian masses, have done what the Corinthians did: we have elevated certain gifts above others. This stems back to the reformation. When Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the Wittenberg church doors, he, like Paul, was decrying the elevation of certain gifts above others. The Catholic church was elevating those individuals who uttered wisdom and knowledge and who have the gift of prophecy above others. The priests and pope were much more important than normal congregates because they had these gifts. Martin Luther, for all his work, then communicated the same to the protestant church that “The certain mark by which a Christian community can be recognized is the preaching of the gospel in its purity.” Thus, the protestant church has also fallen victim to this thinking.
Another thing that American Christians have done is misunderstand what is a spiritual gift and what is a talent. Now, both are given by the grace of God, but some are given by the Spirit for the spiritual needs of the congregation and others can be used to honor God, but are not spiritual gifts.
Experiencing the Gospel
Jesus gives us a great example of this. He may have had a talent for carpentry, but this was not how he tended to the spiritual needs of the congregation. Instead, Jesus is an example of every single spiritual gift that Paul listed. He absolutely had perfection in wisdom and knowledge. He had faith in God that calmed storms. He healed people and showed miracles and wonders. He forth told what the will of God was, was able to discern the hearts of the corrupt Pharisees, and spoke to each person in the way they needed to hear the love and truth of God.
The same could be said for the disciples. I’m sure they were very talented at catching fish and collecting taxes, but they were called and alloted gifts to build up the people of God and lead them in right relationship with Him. Furthermore, they were also great examples of allowing each person to utilize their spiritual gifts. They realized quickly after Jesus ascended that they needed help. They needed to concentrate on the distribution of the Word of God, so they found others who were gifted to do the work of healing and discernment and miracles.
Anticipating the Consequences
This is what we must understand about spiritual gifts in our time: Each of us must know, understand, and utilize our spiritual gifts for the betterment of the Body. This church depends on each of you using your spiritual gifts. It can be difficult to know where you are gifted, but hey are different from talents. I can say that God has gifted me with a musical ability, which I use for his glory, but in what way does that conform with the gifts of the Holy Spirit as Paul outlines here. You could say, I’m really good at sewing or construction or decorating, and that is awesome. The Body of Christ needs those things as well, but they aren’t spiritual gifts. They aren’t manifestations of the Spirit for the spiritual good of the entire community.
This links directly with what we talked about discipleship last week. We’ve heard the phrase it takes a village when it comes to raising a child, but that is the point of discipleship. No matter where one is in their relationship to God, it takes the entire village to continue and nurture them. I may have the gift of wisdom, administration, and leadership, some of which gifts come from other letters of Paul, but I really need help in healing, intercession, and encouragement. The top down structure of churches doesn’t work and it is showing in the American culture. We can no longer elevate certain individuals and gifts above others. The idea that we have certain Christian celebrities would have made Paul laugh!
We must first know our gifts. There are great resources out there that show you a pretty comprehensive list of spiritual gifts in our time and help you show which are strengths and which are weaknesses. It is vital to know both. If I know my weakness, I can ask others to help me offset my weaknesses. Same goes for the entire Body of Christ.
We must second ask for help in developing each of our gifts. Usually those of the same gifts can help you out. Ultimately, the one who gave us the power and these gifts will help us. Pray specifically for help in these areas. If we knock on the door and if we ask for help, God will answer.
Third, we must use our gifts to bless others and build the Body. How can I bless those around me with my gifts and if I’m not using my gifts, who is missing out on being blessed by me? In the first bricks of building up the Body of Christ, each of us are a vital part in this congregation. When one brick is missing, it is noticeable and felt by all. Worse though, is that the structure is not sound. You could be very missing brick that causes the structure to collapse. That should be immensely convicting and convincing.
It seems as if in this world, some of these gifts are not evident. Sometimes, it seems God’s power has diminished. God’s power hasn’t gone anywhere: His people have simply stopped responding to it. They are there if you look closely. I’ve seen cancer disappear miraculously because of healer’s prayers. God has gifted doctors as healers as well. I’ve heard stories of demon-possessed individuals in African healed from their affliction. I’ve known individuals who could communicate with many different cultures and languages.
God’s power is waiting for us to respond. The Holy Spirit is waiting for us to let Him guide us. Our Lord wants us to glorify Him and be servants to His gifts. We must first respond. Guess what! In case I haven’t said it enough, there are people in this congregation, myself included, who can help you. If you don’t know Christ today and have not confessed in your heart that He is Lord of your life, then we long to see you make that confession. We are here to help guide you to the One who also saved us.
The world is dark and growing darker, please utilize your gifts to shine light into others lives and into the world. During our response time, the altars will be open if you want to come forward and ask the Spirit for His direction. If you want to respond to God’s grace and power in your lives, now is the time. If you see your brother and sister in Christ come up to the altar, will you please come and pray for them. We are one Body, communing in one Spirit, to build each other up and glorify God.
Let us pray.