Sermon from Sunday January 20th 2013
1 Corinthians 12:1,4,5,7,11
Pastor Terry Defoe, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Copyright © 2013. Pastor Terry Defoe. All Rights Reserved.
Our Bible text this morning is found in Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth, chapter 12. The Apostle Paul says:
1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
- Have you ever given someone a gift that was used and appreciated for a long time afterwards?
- Have you ever given a gift and had the recipient say to you, "Hey, that's exactly what I wanted!"
Like us, God is pleased when people make use of his gifts. He’s pleased when his gifts have an ongoing positive impact. God doesn’t make mistakes in the gifts He offers. What He offers, we most definitely need. And like us, God is disappointed when His gifts are received but never used.
As I say, God’s greatest gift is His Son, Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ, which is something that the Holy Spirit – working through the Word and the Sacraments – enables us to do, brings us into God’s Kingdom. Receiving Christ is the first and most important step on our Christian journey. Enabled by the Holy Spirit, we submit to God’s will for us. Enabled by the Spirit, we let go of our pride and our self-centeredness. Enabled by the Spirit, we let the Lord take control of our lives. And we pray that God would make the kind of people he wants us to be.
God’s greatest gift – His Son, Jesus Christ – brings us salvation, rescue from the quicksand of sin. God’s greatest gift – His Son, Jesus Christ – prepares a place in heaven for us. And here’s where we focus on our text for this morning. When we come into God’s Kingdom through Holy Baptism, God grants us special gifts – the New Testament calls them “charismata.” These special gifts – “spiritual gifts” if you prefer – are my topic this morning. Spiritual gifts help us live serve our Lord and His church more effectively. Spiritual gifts, according to the Apostle Paul, are given for the common good. They are given to build up the church.
You know, as Christian people, we have rights. And we also have responsibilities. According to the Apostle John, when we come to faith, we have a right to be called the children of God, for that is what we are, he says. When we come to faith, we have a right to the blessings and grace of God, not because of anything we have done, mind you, but because of the wonderful love of our Heavenly Father. When we come to faith, we have a right to possess spiritual gifts. Matching these rights, however, are corresponding responsibilities. And the power carry out these responsibilities is not our own. It’s the power of God working through us. When we come to faith, we have a responsibility to be good stewards or managers of what the Scriptures call the manifold grace of God. As we hear in First Peter, chapter 4, verse 10 – as we live out our Christian faith, we are to “faithfully administer God’s grace in its various forms.” (N.I.V.)
Many of us, when we were children, assembled toys from a kit. We opened the box and we found all the parts, and some sort of assembly manual, and it was our job to put those parts together. In a similar way, at the time of our baptism, all the parts of our Christian faith are present. But it takes a lifetime for God to assemble them. And he does that as we let him work in our lives, as we submit to his will for us.
Here’s a definition of spiritual gifts that I’ve found helpful over the years:
“Spiritual gifts are gifts of God’s grace, freely given to believers in Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, at the time of their baptism.”
Spiritual gifts enable God’s people to come to their full potential. Spiritual gifts enable God’s people to serve him effectively. And these gifts are not the same thing as talents. Let me explain the difference. Musical ability is a talent. So is artistic ability. Craftsmanship is a talent. So is the ability to figure out a computer network or a software manual. All of these things are important, and also important in the church as well, but they are not spiritual gifts. Unlike talents, which all people – believers and non-believers alike possess – spiritual gifts are God’s special gifts for His people. In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul is speaking to the Christians at Corinth, Greece, as well as to us in the church today.
The Apostle Paul didn’t want these Christians, to be unaware of the true function of spiritual gifts in the Kingdom of God. And he didn’t want them to use their gifts wrongly. When I was in my last year at seminary, I wrote a lengthy paper on the topic of spiritual gifts. This topic has always been important to me and I’m glad to see that the right understanding and use of spiritual gifts has been incorporated into the core values of Mount Olive Lutheran Church. I began my seminary paper by quoting these words, written by an expert on this topic:
No local congregation will be what it should be – what Jesus prayed that it should be, what the Holy Spirit gifted it and empowered it to be – until it understands spiritual gifts.
In Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 11 and 12, speaking of workers in the Kingdom of God, the Apostle Paul says:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (N.I.V.)
Spiritual gifts are the equipment we need to serve the Lord and his people. Used according to God’s will, the church is built up and strengthened. As we use these gifts, according to God’s will, we come to a mature Christian faith. So Spiritual gifts are an important part of the equipment we need to get the job done.
There are ditches on both sides of the road when it comes to spiritual gifts. One ditch is labeled “mis-use.” And the other is labeled “dis-use.” Mis-use means people are using their gifts, but they’re not using them according to God’s will. Dis-use means that God’s people aren’t using their gifts at all. The problem most commonly seen in the modern Christian church is the latter, not the former – in other words, dis-use, not mis-use. What’s most amazing to me is that God the Holy Spirit has already bestowed spiritual gifts on his people. All true believers, whether they know it or not, already possess these gifts. But like the gifts I mentioned earlier that languish in the closet, many spiritual gifts never see the light of day. Here’s the bottom line: Spiritual gifts are given to be used. They are bestowed by the Holy Spirit Himself. He distributes them as he chooses. And these gifts are given for a lifetime. They don’t “come and go” – appearing for a while and then disappearing.
So we don’t need to pray that God would give us spiritual gifts. He’s already done that. What we do need to do is to pray that God would enable us to discover the gifts we already possess and use them according to His will. Now, that’s when things get interesting – and exciting. That’s when our true potential – both as individuals and as congregations – begins to be seen.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians that, should anything be used without love, or done without love, it immediately loses its value. In the Holy Scriptures, the “church” is the people of God. The church is not the building in which God’s people meet. The Apostle Paul compares the church to a human body. In this body, a multitude of differing – but equally important parts– work together for the common good. Jesus Christ is the head of the body called the church. In the New Testament, the word “head” can also mean “source.” So Christ guides and directs his church. And, by his death and resurrection, linked to the Word and the Sacraments, He is also the source of the church. The church could not exist without him. In the Body of Christ, the church, there is unity in diversity. Each part of the body needs all the others. There is a “division of labor” in the body, as each part does its work for the sake of the body as a whole.
Christian writer David Louis says this about the building of churches in the middle ages. He says:
"Many Gothic churches of the Middle Ages were built in the following way: a quarry site was established, often as much as 50 miles from the place where the church was to be erected. When the rocks were mined, volunteers from all over the countryside would form a living chain, from the quarry to the building site. The rocks would then be passed, from hand to hand, all the way to the construction grounds."
David Louis, 2201 Fascinating Facts, p.32 (Ridge Press, 1983); submitted by Ted De Hass, Bedford, Iowa. As seen at www.preachingtoday.com
In that process of physically building a church, every person in that line was needed. If one person were not there to do the work, someone else would have to step in to take their place. And the very same thing is true in terms of the spiritual building of the church. God’s will is that His people work together – for the sake of the church as a whole. Our Lord wants his church to work together as a team. In our denomination – the Lutheran Church – Canada – we often hear the word “Concordia.” Concordia literally means “hearts together.” Concordia means unity, agreement, working together in harmony. You may want to think about it this way: In a symphony orchestra, a multitude of instruments work together to produce a beautiful rich sound. In a similar way, in the church, various people work together to do God’s will. Disunity harms the mission of the church.
Even though we don’t often speak of them, spiritual gifts are an important part of the our life together as God’s people. When you think about it, there’s a lot at stake here: A strong, vibrant, and mature faith, for God’s people. There’s a lot at stake: A church that is built up and strong. Used rightly, spiritual gifts foster the common good. Used wrongly, or not at all, both God’s people and his church fail to come to their full potential. As the Apostle Paul says in our text this morning, 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. May God enable us to understand what these gifts are all about, discover them, and them put them to use in His Kingdom, for our good, but, most of all, for His glory! May God grant that, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, remind us that there is much to be gained by a proper understanding of spiritual gifts. Grant us the ability to discern your will in this matter. May your Church be built up and strengthened as we use our gifts according to your will. In Jesus' name. Amen