1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
God Is At Work
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
One of the primary goals of the work of the devil in our world today is to divide the church. He does a lot of things in the world, but one of the things he aims at most often is to divide the church into warring factions. Since the sign of the disciples of Christ is their love for one another, the sign of the progress of the devil among those who ought to be the people of God is division. It doesn't seem important what it is that people are divided over, just that they are divided. Almost anything will do. And, face it, people have divided themselves into "us" versus "them" over anything and everything.
Men and women have set themselves at odds with each other over gender, race, ethnicity, language, dietary preferences, weight, taste in music, measured intelligence, place of origin, income, preferred sport or team within a specific sport, right-handedness or left-handedness, hair color, and preference for one brand of almost any product over another, just to name a few of the supposedly important distinctions by which people have distinguished one group from another. A matter of taste is just that, a difference in preference or even in physical ability to identify and appreciate certain distinctions. Something simple which distinguishes one group from another can become a distinction that divides and even creates hostility when the human ego gets involved. It is part of how sin functions in the human psyche. It works in the world, and it works in the church.
Our Epistle today speaks about Spiritual Gifts, but the lesson can be applied to any of the distinctions we find so precious in our world when it comes to the Church. We observe differences between us and others, and we deal with those differences as though they are our accomplishment and of actual importance in some way. Paul reminds us in our text that the church is God's creation, and sustained and blessed by God, so while we think we are looking at matters of importance which distinguish us from others, Paul tells us that what we seeing is God at work. And that is our theme this morning, God is at work.
Now there are differences that we should make note of, some of which are mentioned in our text. The thing is that we should note them, but not allow them to divide us. The sorts of things that should divide us are things like false doctrine and aberrant practice, the sorts of things people plead for patience with in this world. When someone confesses a different faith than we confess, that should stand as a wall between us and them, and encourage us to try to resolve the differences between us on the basis of the Word of God, so that there is, finally, no separation. But false doctrine, or an alien confession should divide us, as the Word of God teaches. That difference is the original reason for different denominations in the visible church. But when our differences are not doctrinal, but personal, we should understand that what we are observing ought not to be considered divisive, but that it is God is at work in His church, blessing us and giving us gifts that we can use to build up the church.
Apparently, what was happening in Corinth was that those with certain gifts were either separating themselves, or being separated by the action of others, from the church or within the church. People who had certain gifts were claiming pre-eminence. They were special people, and worth more than others, in the their own minds, or in the minds of some in the church. We have seen that phenomenon in the modern church, too. People with certain charismatic gifts have claimed some blessings that make them special, or claim that everyone should have these blessings, and that there is something wrong with people who are lacking them, somehow.
Paul addressed that specific situation in our text. He notes, first of all, that a Christian is a Christian by the work of God! "No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit." Only the gift of God enables one to sincerely confess Christ. By the same token, false doctrine and the denial of Christ - or any blasphemy - cannot come from a person in whom the Holy Spirit is at work. "No one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"." It is not just that one denial that is circumscribed here, but all false doctrine, and all denials of Christ and of the truth of God. They are highlighted here because every false doctrine and every denial of God's Word is a denial of Christ and an attack on Him. No one who is a Christian can do these things, and when you hear someone denying the Word of God - or sound doctrine drawn from the Word of God - you are hearing one speak who cannot be a Christian. It does not matter what they may say about themselves, they are not a child of God. The Holy Spirit is not at work in them, and it is not the Spirit of God which speaks through them.
The reason, on the other hand, that there are so many different gifts and abilities in the church, according to Paul, is that God is at work, giving the church what it needs to prosper in its mission. Paul lists a word of knowledge, and tongues, and a word of wisdom, and healing, and faith, and interpretation of tongues, and prophecy, and miracles, and the distinguishing of spirits. I don't think the list is intended to be exhaustive, because there are other lists in Scripture, even from the pen of Paul, that contain other gifts and which are missing some of these, but this is a list of some of the various gifts God was giving to the church at that time. Some of these gifts may not be available today, or at least not generally available. Some of them are covered by other blessings in or world - like healing. We have modern medicine. Perhaps the gift of healing is no longer needed so much, and perhaps even then, the gift of healing was given more to verify the message, before there were New Testaments to carry the Word of God in the time after Christ's ascension. Perhaps there came a point in time when no further verification, other than the church itself, was needed, or desired by God. Other gifts, like the word of knowledge, may be given by education today instead of direct illumination by the Spirit.
God still gives wisdom and insight. He still send preachers, who, one would hope, would have the gift of prophecy, that is the gift of preaching. Some people still have the gift of distinguishing spirits. These people can just tell when someone or something is right and when it is wrong, somehow. Each one of us has the gift - or gifts - we need, even if it is not listed in this list, gifts that we need to bring to the church, and to our part of the church right here. The point here is that God gives the gifts because the Church is His and it is His work. We have what we need as a congregation to accomplish what God has in store for us to accomplish. He tells us about this because people tend to think that what they can do or what talents they possess are due to them and to their credit somehow. But they are not. They are gifts. God is at work.
So, if you cannot figure out what your gift is, don't worry about it. God is the giver, and you have what you need, and what the church needs from you. Our text says that "one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." If you have great talent, don't get overly proud about it. God gave you the talent you have for the welfare of the church. On the other hand, if you cannot figure out what your gift is, or wonder if you have a gift, the answer is to understand and believe that God is at work. Each of us has our place, our role and we are needed where God has planted us. If we despair of having a purpose or a gift, it is the same as getting puffed up about having such an important and precious gift. Either way, the church is God's work, and it is going according to His plan and His work, not according to ours or our wisdom.
We also need to understand that when God gives us our talents or gifts, He does it for the common good, just as Paul writes. He doesn't give us our gifts for us individually, and nothing more. He pours out His blessings for the common good. There is nothing wrong with using our gifts for our own advantage and good as well, but when someone takes their talents and abilities for themselves alone, and thinks that somehow they are the source and it is their specialness that makes them what they are, they misunderstand the gifts of God and generally misuse them. God blesses us for His purposes, not merely for our own. It is sin that teaches the human heart to say, "Me first!" instead of "For us all".
You are, just like the church, the work of God. He has made you and equipped you to be His servant and a blessing among His people. In our Gospel today, Jesus cries out about the misuse of the gift of God which was the Temple - saying to them, "It is written, 'AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,' but you have made it a ROBBERS' DEN." Just as the people of Israel had taken for their own purposes the blessing of the house of the Lord - and misused it, so today many people misuse the blessings they have been given which were meant to be for the common good. We are invited to be like Jesus.
He was powerful beyond our imagining, and could have done things men still dream of doing. But He came for one purpose, for our salvation, and He used His abilities for that purpose. When He performed miracles, they were done for a reason other than just because He could, or to make something of Himself for His own benefit. He did not heal just because He was a nice guy, although He was a nice guy. He did those things to make a point, to draw attention to who He is, and to fulfill prophecy, to the end that He would be put to death for our sins, and pay our penalty, and redeem us. He could lived forever, and exercised the powers of God among us for His own attention - but then, that would have been contrary to the plan of God and just like Adam and Eve behaved when they fell into sin, just like we behave in sin.
But He died, and He died ugly, for us - to pay for our sins and rescue us from sin and death and hell. He took all that He had and all that He was and used it for the common good, because He knew that even His life was God at work. We are called to do just the same - not the same deeds, Jesus did all of that for us, and announced that "it is finished!". We are called to use all that we have and all that we are for the common good in the body of Christ. God would have us understand and believe that when we do that, it is God at work in us and through us and for us, as He distributes His gifts to each one of us individually, just as He wills.
The church, and each of us in it, is the work of God. We are, as Rush Limbaugh is fond of saying of himself, working "with talent on loan from God." Our response is rightly, as Luther said, "to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him." God is at work in the Church, and in our congregation, and in our individual lives before Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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