So many people are chasing the Holy Spirit. You don't have to be a Pentecostal or Charismatic to be obsessed with the Spirit and His gifts. Any Christian can fall into the trap of becoming fixated upon the Holy Ghost. If you pray for healing and demand that the Spirit do as you ask, then you treat Him as an automatic vending machine, rather than a Person who wills and chooses. If you think that by doing the right things, then the Holy Ghost will give you a certain gift, then you are treating Him as the spirit of good works and self-righteousness, not the Spirit of grace. If you think that the Holy Ghost will always make the Church grow and be prosperous, then you are treating Him as your servant, not your Lord.
How easy it is to slip into these traps! Instead of faith, your flesh wants miracles. Instead of trust, your old Adam wants a sign.
If people obsess about the Spirit and forget about the Father and the Son, then they are completely missing the point. The Spirit does not choose and bestow gifts of grace all by Himself, completely independent of the Father and the Son. All three Persons choose and bestow together as one, because they are One. The Unity of the Trinity means that the Spirit has His Godhead, power, and work from the Father and the Son, not independent of them. So the Holy Ghost "shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak," as Jesus has said.
On Pentecost, the Spirit was not acting in order to draw attention to Himself. When the tongues of fire came upon the heads of the disciples, and they spoke in various languages, it was not to make people say, "Oh, boy! Isn't the Holy Spirit great?" No, the Spirit did these things so that Saint Peter could proclaim Christ crucified, and many could be baptized for the remission of their sins. The Spirit acted in order to draw attention to Christ, and to bring forgiveness and salvation.
In the same way, when the Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon Christ at the Jordan River, it was not to get people excited about the Spirit. It was to point to Christ, the beloved Son, and to point to the gift of Baptism, which is the Spirit's washing of regeneration and renewal.
So we should not go seeking a spirit who works in isolation from the other members of the Trinity. If a spirit is not specifically building up the body in Christ in the forgiveness of sins, then he is not the Holy Ghost. If there are gifts being given, but they have little or nothing to do with Christ, then they are not gifts of grace, but the idolatry of man's self-glorification.
The Spirit only gives gifts of grace. True gifts of grace are both freely given, and they point back to grace itself. If they are given in response to some good work, then they were not given as grace. If they are given, but they do not point back to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, then they are not gifts of grace. True gifts come out from God's undeserved love, and they go back again to His undeserved love. That is their purpose, since only in His grace is the Body of Christ built up in unity.
There are many gifts, and many not listed in our text. But the chief gift is always the Word, because it directly (in itself) gives the grace of God, whereas other gifts only point to or support the Word.
Saint Paul lists the Word of knowledge and the Word of wisdom. The Word of knowledge most likely is a teacher's firm grasp and communication of the information of the text of Scripture. Knowledge is important, since the true faith is not merely based upon whatever someone feels. There is true teaching and false teaching, and the Church needs to know the difference, or else she will plunge into error and darkness.
On the other hand, it is not knowledge in itself that saves. A tiny baby who may know nothing in his intellect is nevertheless saved by the washing of water in the Spirit. Anyone may know the facts of the Bible but not put your trust in them.
Saint Paul also says that there is a Word of wisdom. There is a certain earthly wisdom of man that may have some uses. But the Wisdom of God is Christ and Him crucified. So the Word of Wisdom is to preach and teach the most important thing, namely, your redemption in the Blood of your Savior.
Therefore, the greatest work of the Spirit is to bring you to faith and open your lips to make confession of Christ as Lord. This is to confess that He is God as well as Man. It is also to confess that He is your Redeemer. That is the Spirit's work, since no man can confess Christ without the Spirit. It is not your choice that created faith in your heart or opened your lips to confess His Name. All things that are righteous and good are His doing, including your faith and confession.
Human wisdom is division and self-righteousness. Human wisdom looks at whatever gifts the Spirit gives and says, "I have this gift!" - as if having a gift makes you somehow better or more spiritual or more mature than another person. Hell is filled with such squabblers arguing for all eternity over who is better than whom.
But Christ makes all people equal in His own person. He has rescued you from the idols in your hearts that would lead you away into hell. Christ has grafted you into Himself as part of His one Body. There is no superiority in the Body. For all members of it are there because they were redeemed from the sinful idolatry of their hearts. Whatever they were and whatever they have in this life does not matter before God. Only Christ matters, who gave up all gifts and privileges and superiority so that He could suffer in your place.
The Spirit also makes all people equal, because He is constantly pointing to Christ. If you are spiritual people, that means that the Spirit has made you His in the true faith. He has caused you to put your trust in the Cross rather than your feelings or your gifts or your wisdom or your choices. All those things count for nothing before God. But the Spirit has given you the one thing that counts: The Blood that atones for all sins.
The same Holy Ghost will continue to give gifts as He sees fit, sometimes more of one gift, sometimes less, sometimes miraculous, sometimes ordinary. Yet in all things, He is constant and sure, since He is always the Spirit of Christ who washed you and gave birth to you in His holy water and in His Name, with the Father and the Son.
In this Triune Name you will rest secure for all eternity. All glory be to Him alone. Amen.
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