Church in the Trench: Spec Ops

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Intro & Recap

Exegetical Point: Jesus’ saved body is equipped with varying gifts for varying service.
Application point: Find your gifts and use them!
Liv. 2.32 - Paraphrase
Menenius Agrippa from about 500 BC tells this story something like this:
The members of a human body were hanging about one day, and they got into a bit of a stir. The hands were complaining, “All we do is work work work to provide food for the stomach. The stomach doesn't have to do anything, it just sits there and enjoys the food that we had to work hard to make. They got various other body members on their side, and they hatched a plan: “We’re sick of the stomach not pulling his weight, we’re gonna stop feeding Stomach. Mouth, don’t open when it’s time to eat. Teeth - go on strike and don’t chew. Us hands won’t even lift the food to the mouth. That’ll teach stomach a lesson! We’ll starve him!
So, the plan gets underway - Hands keep working, moth keeps talking but the provide no food to Stomach. Stomach pleads for food, but it falls on deaf ears. All the body part turn against stomach, and he starts to waste away.
But then something unexpected starts to happen: Hands start finding it hard to work. Feet are having trouble walking. Eyes can’t see clearly.
The body stated to waste away. Exhausted and weak.
You see, the stomach was not just idly eating all the fruits of labour. It wasn’t just resting on other to provide for it, it was in turn playing the crucial role to nourish the body. The work that the rest of the body put in to give stomach food, resulted in an equal benefit to the body in strengthening it.
In our passage today, Paul the Apostle riffs on this same story, or a variation of it. He points out the same basic premise - that all the parts of a body rely on each other. All the parts of the Church have different jobs to do - some more prestigious than others - but all are participating with their God given gifts for the good of the whole. To isolate one form the rest, or to stubbornly complain that “that that guy over there has a better job, I wish i could have his job” is to effectively starve the body of it’s nourishment and undermine the design.
We’ve been talking about the Church in the Trench for three weeks now. The Church in the Trench is the Church of Jesus that is still here on earth, in the battle grounds of God’s advancing Kingdom. Eastgate is a Church in the Trench, on the front lines.
First week we said that the Church in the Trench is an Outpost of Heaven - It’s like heaven, it’s like home, but this is not our permanent home - we need to stay on guard and protect the holy space - the church - from sin and rebellion while Christ advances his kingdom through a suffering church.
Secondly, last week we discussed how God had not left his Church in the trench leaderless - but he has provided Commissioned Officers on the front line: After the Apostles laid the foundation of the church on Jesus the cornerstone - he gave Elders to oversee and pastor the flock, as well as Deacons to lead many of the practical concerns of the church.
That brings us to this week - Having talked about the nature of the church on earth, it’s leaders, now it’s time to chat about all of us together. The individuals who make up the church, what part do we play as individuals in this Outpost of Heaven under our Commissioned Officers?
Well, as the name of this sermon would indicate, we are Spec Ops soldiers - Special Operations. All of us are people who have a special job to do that contributes to the whole body.
Just like the army needs lots of different types of people with lots of different jobs to make the whole work, well, we all need to find how we fit into that larger body.
We need to know what is our specialized area of operations. How has God gifted you by his Spirit? Do you know?
Is it as a front line evangelist? Is it as a chef who cooks up nourishing spiritual meals for the believers? Are you in comms, buried in prayer for Christ’s church? Are you the morale officer who encourages your brothers & sisters to keep persevering? Are you leadership material, that should be set aside to oversee the platoon?
This message this morning isn’t going to be a crash course on individual spiritual gifts, in fact we’re kinda going to gloss over the details of the gifts mentioned in this passage, but we are going to talk about how Jesus has equipped His church with all the different parts to make it work together. We all have a special job to do. I’ll happily chat about the specific gifts after the service in the courtyard, but right here, lets look at 1 Cor 12 to see what it says about the idea of spiritual gifts. and get you thinking about:
What special role do you have in this church?
Lets consider 4 things that 1 Cor 12 tells us about these spiritual gifts

1. Gifts are from God & Glorify Jesus (12:1-6)

The first thing you’ll notice in chapter 12 is that the spiritual gifts in the church are from God, and they Glorify Jesus.
You can see from the opening lines, that gifts are characterized by the way they lead toward praising Jesus. Paul instructs the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 12:1–3 ESV
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
If you try hard enough for long enough, you can whip just about anyone up into an ecstatic state. It was not uncommon in those ancient pagan religions near Corinth to have people in trances or given over to a religious fervor. This could be people under the influence of heightened emotion, drugs, or even demonic influence. Many of the Corinthians had been sucked into this false worship before they were Christians.
So Paul writes to the church about how to distinguish between a true and a false spiritual gifts. What’s a deceptive lie and what’s genuine spirituality?
Well, he says for a start, “If someone in your church claiming to be acting in the Holy Spirit, starts saying things like “Jesus is accursed”, that's a pretty good sign it’s fake”
That might seem plain to us, but if you’ve come out of a background of weird “prophetic” utterances, pseudo spiritual emotional manipulation or just plain demonic influence, then you might have a hard time sorting through these things if it showed up on a Sunday morning.
For the Corinthians, and for us, we have to start on the same footing - spiritual gifts glorify Jesus, not tearing him down. If anyone seems to be doing something particularly charismatic, but it undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ - that’s a dead give away - this is a fake spiritual gift.
How can we tell fake spiritual gifts?
Paul Goes on to mention that there are a bunch of different gifts, but they’re all from the same source:
1 Corinthians 12:4–6 ESV
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
So, the gifts have to glorify Jesus, “Jesus is Lord”, and they come from God himself. We’ll talk more about the variety of gifts in a bit, but lets just dwell on this for a moment - It is God himself who empowers the gifts in every one: “ it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” 1 Co 12:6.
The special operations that each Christian is called to, are empowered by God himself through the Spirit. It’s not just us out here trying to put on a spiritual facade to fit in, no, we are empowered by God himself to the job he has ahead of us!
Paul says something similar in Philippians:
Philippians 2:13 ESV
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Now if God is working in us by his Spirit, the same Spirit that rose Jesus Christ from the dead, what will we be able to do?
What limitations are there on what God can do through his Church with divine resurrection power?
You and I can look at the world around us and grumble at the hopeless estate of mankind -
the political structures are crumbling...
the moral fabric of society is dissolving...
I keep falling into the same sins again and again...
But we don’t have to live in despair! Jesus came into the world to save it!
He came to save sinners, like you and me, and to restore this broken world. Jesus paid with his own life to rescue his Church from death - dying on a cross in our place, but then rising to life in triumph over Satan, sin & death. In resurrection life he began his program to call into the church people form very corner of the globe.
He pronounces his call to you now: “Come in all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest!”
Come to Christ’s arms all you who have grown tired of the pointlessness of life!
Come in all you who are weighed down by sin and shame!
Come in all you who are tiered of kicking against the work of God’s Spirit in your hearts.
Come, come and give your allegiance to Jesus. Put your faith and trust in the God man who wants to change you from the inside out.
Come, and enter into the People of God - the Church - where God’s Spirit is purifying a holy people being used by God.
Come, and give yourself to God so that his Spirit might empower you with spiritual gifts to Glorify Christ Jesus - our King and Lord.

2. Gifts are used to Build up the Church (12:7 & 14:26)

These gifts are from God and they Glorify Jesus, but how do they glorify Jesus?
What are gifts for? What do they do?
Well, we’re told in the next verse, v7:
1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Each believer, each spec ops soldier, receives God’s Spirit for the common good of the Church. For the good of the body.
It’s not for private pleasure,
its not to put on a show,
It’s not to try and gain power & prestige in the Church.
The Spirit works in us for the Common Good of the local body.
Paul says something on expressing gifts which is very similar a couple chapters down:
1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
The gifts in the body are for it’s building up.
As we talked about in the first part of this mini-series: God is working on a construction project, in yours and my life, to build up a pure and perfect Church where He will live with his people forever.
He does it by taking you and I, who would otherwise be enemies of God, and changing us, making us alive on the inside so that we can work toward the mission objective: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Mt 28:19–20.
Spiritual gifts are for the building up of the body, so that we can continue the mission that is before us.

3. Different Gifts for Different people (12:8-11)

Sooooo, we’ve talked a fair bit about the fact that there are spiritual gifts from God, and they are for the purpose of building up the church, but what are some of the gifts?
Well, there’s a whole bunch. Lots of different kinds. The Corinthians seemed to be hung up on one type of gift, and holding it up as this thing that is more important. But Paul tells them - everybody in the church has the Spirit, but there’s different ways that works out in gifting. He then goes on to give a list of some of them:
1 Corinthians 12:7–11 ESV
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
So what can we see here? Different gifts for different people. One person gets that job, someone else gets a different job.
The one Spirit is working through different people with different gifts for the building up of the body. Everybody has a special job to do in God’s power.
And notice at the end of verse 11 there? “who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Who gives out the Spiritual Gifts?
The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to people based on his choice. I’m sure you’ve been in situations, maybe at work or in the group project at uni where the team is dividing up tasks and you get given the awful job that you dread.
In that case, you can justifiably question whether or not you were given the right job - you can say to the team leader, “I don’t think this is the right job for me, can you please give me another?”
It’s not like that in God’s church, because the Spirit is not some outside observer who doesn’t know any better, he is actually in us, and he knows us, and he is shaping us for his own service. The Holy Spirit makes the call about what gifts he will empower in each person. I dunno about you, but the idea that God makes the choice certainly takes the weight off my shoulders; I don’t need to try and be someone that God doesn’t want me to be, just use the gifts that he has apportioned.
We shouldn’t be like the toddler who thinks that every toy that another kid has is better than the one in her own hands. The grass always seems greener on the other side, but we must learn that if God doesn't give us what someone else has, it is for our own good. I pray that we can join with Paul to say “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Php 4:11), not merely as an “oh well, may as well accept my lot in life” but rejoicing “God has empowered my be his Spirit in the way that he wants.
We can desire “higher gifts”, as Paul says at the end of the chapter, but let’s not turn that into jealousy and discontentment.
Jesus tells the parable of the talents, where several servants were given different amounts of money “to each according to his ability” (Mt 25:15). Each of them was expected to invest the money for His master’s benefit. Some got given larger sum of money, some a decent amount, one a little.
So each had a different starting place with the money, but when the master come back to see what they’d done with it, he was not concerned so much with the amount that they had, but what they had done with it. Two of the servants had doubled their money and the master was very please because they used what he had given them to build more. But, he was angry with the servant who did nothing with the money and just hid it away because of fear that he would do it wrong.
Brothers & Sisters, God through his Spirit has entrusted us with great gifts of varying types and varying measure. We have to put these gifts to work for the Master, for the glory of Jesus. Whether you have gifts that put you in the limelight, or gifts that are almost never seen, we all should use them to grow and multiply the deposit that has been entrusted to us for a time.
Jesus equips us for his service, and enables us through the empowering of the Spirit to get to work building up the body.
I hope we will all one day hear the words of our Master, Jesus, saying the same thing as the master of his parable:
Matthew 25:21 ESV
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
The Spirit has different gifts for different people - let’s each use what God has given us a faithful servants.

4. Everybody’s Gift are important - we’re one Body (12:12-31)

In the previous section we talked a lot about how we each as individuals get gifts by the Spirit, but now in this last section, we see that everybody’s gifts are important because we rely on each other to make up the whole. It’s not just everybody out there doing their own thing, nor is it appropriate for people to be ditching their own gifts as if they aren’t important.
Paul uses the body metaphor to drive home the point: We’re all in this together, and every person has a special job to play for the good of the whole.
1 Corinthians 12:12–26 ESV
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Paul’s imagery is almost comical. How stupid would it be if your foot wanted to be a hand, and when it failed, decided “nup, I don’t belong here”?
The plain imagery is that for your body to function well, each member of the body has to be healthy, and do it’s job well.
Feet are useless as hands.
Ears would be hopeless as eyes.
Sure, if you’re missing a part of your body, your other parts usually try to compensate - if you can’t see your hearing and sense of smell get heightened, but you know what’s better than a little extra hearing and smelling? A pair of eyes!
Like the parable from the opening, each part is helped by the other, and we are doing the body a disservice if
a) we try and exclude someone because we don’t like their job, or
b) if we are withholding our own gifting because it’s not what we think it should be.
Somebody, I think it was Chrysostom, noticed that in this metaphor the body parts seem to be jealous about a part that that is just a bit “higher” up the respectability chain than themselves. The feet want to be hands, the ears want to be eyes.
Like ourselves in life, often we don't envy those who far beyond us in honour and prestige, we just want to be like the people just above us...
The little bother want the privileges of the older brother,
The teenager wants the gifts that his wealthier mates get for Christmas,
The team member thinks that they would make a great manager,
But what might that look like in the church? Here?
How do you envy those “above” you?
We can all fall into this trap, I do fall into this trap!
“If I had that persons job, I would be great at it.” “I wish I was chosen for that role”
It is the tendency of all of our hearts to become discontent and jealous if we do not guard them carefully. If we don’t pay attention, our envy can lead us to think that we don’t belong “because I can’t have that special job, I don’t have a place here”. But in doing so, we are actually depriving the body of the gifts, the roles that the Spirit is empowering in us.
Did you know that the first spiritual gift is in the Bible? Sewing.
Yep, that’s right God filled some folks with a “Spirit of skill” to make priestly garments. (Exodus 28:3)
Do know what the second was?
Cabinetry, masonry and jewelry. Don’t believe me? look it up in Exodus 31:2–5!
God gifted Bezalel to make the temple furniture. He was given a spiritual gift for the building up of that body of people in the wilderness, to enable them to worship God. At the outset, it might seem plain: “he was only a craftsman” but God had set him aside and empowered him in a way that benefited the whole body! He had his special operation that, had he withheld it, would have been to everybody’s detriment.
Everybody would have suffered if one part was not doing its’ job. Even if it’s not a part that often gets a lot of attention.
Conversely, when thing are working as they should, every part rejoices together! When you’re happy and joyful, your whole body feels it. When the head is crowned, the whole body is honored.
When the Church is operating well, the whole body is honored - sure, some of us have jobs that won’t get singled out for special mention, but then again, we’re not here to glorify ourselves, but to use our gifts to glorify Christ!
Everybody’s gifts are important, and everyone's’ role is for the benefit of the whole body. Jesus is building his Church using different people in different roles. The Bible says:
1 Corinthians 12:27 ESV
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

What now?

We have seen that:
1. Gifts are from God & Glorify Jesus (12:1-6)
2. Gifts are used to Build up the Church (12:7 & 14:26)
3. Different Gifts for Different people (12:8-11)
4. Everybody’s Gift are important - we’re one Body (12:12-31)
So where to from here? What can you do next?
1. Desire the gifts! Pray and ask God to empower you by the Spirit to Glorify Jesus and build up his Church.
2. Ask people who know you well, “how do you think God has gifted me for His service?”
3. Get trained - often we still need help to be prepared for the task ahead, and God uses training to equip us further.
Jesus’ saved body is equipped with varying gifts for varying service.
Find your gifts and use them for the building up of the Body!
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