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.
To Each One Is Given
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our text this morning deals with the topic of "spiritual gifts". In the last twenty years, this was a very controversial topic. The trick of teaching about controversial topics is always not to say too little while being careful not to say too much. When the devil has his foot in the door, so to speak, in a controversy, one needs to teach precisely what God teaches, and nothing more or less. On one side of the road is denial of the Holy Spirit, and on the other is the charismatic excesses which, thank God, are not currently a problem in our congregation.
This particular text offers a number of emphases and teaching points for us to consider. It speaks of the unity of the church. It talks about faith as the work of the Holy Spirit, and it addresses the importance of every individual within the congregation. We will look at each of them, this morning, under the theme, "To Each One Is Given".
First, our text tells us that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. 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. In a church where one cannot distinguish between believer and unbeliever - which isn't so much of a problem in our world today - unbelievers generally don't bother coming to church - but in such a world, it is important to know that no one who has the Holy Spirit at work in them is going to deny Christ or curse Him. That was happening under persecution, in the days of the Apostles. People were being asked, at the point of a spear, to curse Christ or die. Even back then, however, the intellectuals in the church - few though they were - were always tempted to be too wise to fall for the 'superstition' of the Gospel, and so they would deny Christ, and Paul says quite plainly that no one can deny Christ if the Holy Spirit is at work in them.
Why is that important? Because the Holy Spirit alone works faith: no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. You can pronounce the words, of course, but you cannot confess the faith with integrity unless the Holy Spirit has created faith within you. The Church and the Christian faith in each and every believer is the work of the Holy Spirit. So, aside from those pesky hypocrites, you can tell believer from unbeliever by whether they confess Christ or deny Him.
Of course, denying Christ means far more than simply saying the words "Jesus is accursed." The modern scholars who deny that He said the things He said or did the things Scripture tells us that He did are denying Him. When they try to picture Jesus as merely a great man, they are denying Him. When men hijack the church for their own purposes - fund-raising, or political action, or social service alone, or just to turn it into a psycho-therapeutic society - they are denying Jesus. By taking Him and His Church for any purpose other than the Gospel and the salvation of men - and women, of course - they are, by their deeds, as much as saying, "Jesus is accursed."
The Church is God's work, for the purpose of the nurture of His holy ones, and the sharing of the good news that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell on our behalf with those that do not yet believe. Christ's death paid the penalty due according to the justice of God for our sin, and His resurrection declares the forgiveness of our sins and the favor - the good will and love - of God for us. Because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven. Because of Jesus, you will live forever. It is by grace, through faith, and the Church exists to nurture that faith, and enable you to stand firm in it until you reach God's promised rest in heaven. He has knit us together into a family and given us the charge to show forth His glory by holy lives of faith and by telling others the same Gospel that we believe.
Now and then, some Christians get it in their minds that they are insignificant. They think that they do not matter. The church is so big, and they are so small that they are inconsequential - or churches are generally so big and their congregation is so small that it doesn't make any difference in the world or in the mission of Christ in the world.
This text argues against those ideas as well. While the text doesn't mention church sizes, it does address the individual's place in the church. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The manifestation of the Spirit is a fancy way of saying, the gift which the Spirit brings. Notice that every single one - each one - is given the manifestation of the Spirit. You have a place of significance in the Church. You have something to offer that the church needs. No one is unimportant.
Now the ordinary Christian is tempted to fall off the straight and narrow of sound doctrine and thinking in one of two ways. Some people think that they are not significant, and others begin to imagine that they are so talented and so important that the church cannot do without them, and that they ought to be accorded special consideration for being so bright, or talented, or important, or rich, or whatever. Paul apparently was facing both ideas in the church in Corinth, because he effectively addresses both.
First, each of us has a manifestation - a gift. It is for the common good. The church is stronger and better off when each member uses their gifts. You are a blessing, intended for our well-being as individual Christians and especially as a congregation.
Secondly, He goes on to explain how each gift is worked by God - and he cleverly works the Trinity into the explanation. There are gifts, ministries, and effects named, but they are all worked by the same Spirit, same Lord, Same God. Whatever good things happen in the church happens by the power and under the direction of the Lord. The evil men do in the church is not done by God's power - but He knows about it - and sometimes He uses it for His own purposes, such as disciplining the lazy Christian, or trying to awaken the church that is losing its confession to its dangerous situation. But the good stuff, blessings, growth in faith or in numbers, unity, and such, that is all accomplished by God.
He takes several verses here to point to specific gifts, and claim each one is worked by the Spirit. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, and all the other manifestations of the Spirit mentioned are worked by God where and when it pleases Him, for the good of all. This is where we come face-to-face with the idea that each of us is important. God gives each of us our abilities, and fits us into our place for the common good. We don't have to know what all we accomplish. We are not responsible for rating the value of any gift. We are merely called on to use what the Lord gives us - whether we see it as precious or we don't even see it as a gift - in the situation in which He places us, for the glory of God and the life of congregation. How it works out from there is up to God.
We are not responsible for figuring out why or how things work. Paul writes that the Spirit distributes them to each one individually just as He wills. We have what we need, and the congregation needs every one of us. Sometimes it is easy to discount this and think we are here, but we are not all that important. That is just the sin-sickness of the flesh talking. We are important because God says so.
Let me give you examples from history. Some of the most famous congregations in history were small. They did what they could, what they saw as set before them to do. And so people remember them as great congregations - like the church in Neuendettelsau where Pastor Loehe (Löhe) served, and sent missionaries to a new land, America. His sendlinge - the sent ones - became the backbone of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States, which we now call the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It was a small congregation, but vitally important in our Synod's history,
I have also noted that many of our favorite hymns were written by people who were weak and sick. I think of Frances Ridley Havergal. She lived just 43 years. She was in frail health life-long. Still, she wrote 'O Savior, Precious Savior', 'Take My Life and Let It Be', 'I Gave My Life For Thee', 'I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus', 'Now the Light Has Gone Away', from the hymns in our hymnal, and the tune we use with the hymn, 'We Are the Lord's, His All-Sufficient Merit'. She is not the only example, but I think she is one of the best. I cannot imagine that she felt important or powerful or that she was making a big difference. She was weak and sick and died young, but no one who sings her hymns would count her or her contributions to the church as insignificant. What faith she proclaimed - and still proclaims. What joy she has brought to the hearts of millions of Christians. What comfort her hymns contain and impart.
We do not know what God is doing in us or through us. We get to be there when it is happening, but we cannot know how God will use our humble faithfulness. As a pastor, I have seen where the seemingly insignificant people were quietly doing the things that made the biggest difference down the road. I have also witnessed where the man or woman who did nothing extraordinary, simply was always there, always kind, always praying, was considered the "rock" for so many, an example of patience, of kindness, of faithfulness by others, often the more important seeming others, at the time of their passing. That very faithfulness and goodness was their particular gift for the common good. After all, to each one is given that manifestation of the Spirit. And generally, people don't know what it is, or how significant they are in the lives of others - or how they are significant. That is why it requires our faithful doing of what God gives us to do.
It is very much like our salvation: planned by God, earned by Jesus, given to us by grace, that is to say, without considering our value, worth, or beauty. Our lives are given to us in the family of God, the Church, too. God has planned the good works we are to walk in - He says so in Scripture, Ephesians 2:10. He has given us gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, according to His plan and will, not our wisdom or wishes, for the common good. We are permitted the glory of doing what God does through us, but it is God at work, not us - so it doesn't have to make sense to us now or reveal itself as the thing it is in the hand of God. We are simply called on to receive His blessings with thanksgiving, and walk in the light of our salvation faithfully.
God grant it for Jesus' sake.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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