Diversity of Gifts but Unity of Body

1 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  31:14
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Let me tell you a story about a dinner party we had one time. This was when we were living in Nashville; we had just an outstanding small group community called Abide. And, by the way, I’m not very good at hosting dinner parties, especially the planning stage.
Anyway, we’re going to have this dinner and we invite everyone over. As the leader of the group, I take it upon myself to organize everything and I ask all the folks to bring something. A wise person would give some direction as to what each person should bring. I am not that person. “Bring whatever you want, it’ll be fun to have a weird collection.”
Anyway, we make some sort of desserty thing. I didn’t tell anyone to bring dessert, so we’ll take care of that.
Our friend Kathy arrives and she has made some delicious cookies.
You may see where this story is headed.
Alayna shows up at around the same time and has these brownies with peanut butter in them. And when our friend Stephen showed up, his nickname was Moose, he shows up with a box of Double-Stuf Oreos it’s a this point Rachel looks at me and asks, “Did you tell anyone to bring actual food?” PAUSE, HAND IN POCKETS
Over and over, guests arrived at our apartment and revealed their lovely dessert. It turned out to be a very strange dinner party indeed. And I am forever banned from organizing them at our house, now.
If you will, turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 12. 1 Corinthians is in the New Testament, it’s one of the apostle Paul’s letters to a New Testament church. 1 Corinthians 12 is on page 651 of the pew Bible.
We ended up ordering pizza, by the way. We did get some actual food. But what would have made the dinner party a lot better was if there had been someone giving direction on what each person was to bring, so that a variety of dishes was brought from various categories, all blending together into a cohesive meal.
And, not to stretch the analogy too much, that is essentially what the Holy Spirit does for us as a church when He manifests Himself in us in our various giftings. Paul is going to tell us that there are different gifts, but the same Spirit who gives them.
Today and next week will almost serve as a single sermon in 2 parts. Today we’re reading about the diversity of gifts and next week we will look at their intended purpose, to unify the body of the church.
Here’s the main idea: The one Holy Spirit gives different gifts to His people in the church with the intention that those gifts are used to build one another up in the faith.
The one Holy Spirit gives different gifts to His people in the church with the intention that those gifts are used to build one another up in the faith.
Let’s read how Paul begins his discussion of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. I trust you are there by now, let’s read the first 3 verses of the chapter to start:
1 Corinthians 12:1–3 CSB
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Now, we are jumping into the middle of a letter, so let me catch you up with what’s happened so far.
The people of the church at Corinth wrote Paul a letter, probably asking some questions, and this is one of his response letters to them.
His primary concern seems to be, through the letter, that they order their time of worship correctly. God has called us to worship Him in specific ways. We are not free to make up our own ways of doing so. And it seems that the Corinthians were coming together to worship and things were getting unruly and it was causing divisions among the church.
So, Paul starts by acknowledging these divisions, then he gives them theological instruction about spiritual maturity. He says spiritual maturity is showing concern for one another more than oneself. That ought to be a familiar theme by now. That’s the general theological principle of the letter.
Then starting with chapter 5, Paul starts giving them some specific instructions about things they were doing which was causing division in the church. He tells them to start church discipline on a member who was living a blatantly immoral life. He talks about how to handle disputes between believers. He talks about the relationship between husbands and wives and then he instructs them about eating food that had been offered to idols. He says it’s fine, but don’t do it around a believer who has a weaker conscience than you. You are free to eat it, but it’s better to put aside that freedom in order to care for someone else in the church.
In chapter 11, he gives them instruction about the Lord’s Supper. The rich members were getting together early, eating all the good food and getting drunk off of the communion wine. By the time the poorer church members got off work, there was nothing but scraps left. Don’t do that, Paul says, it’s not kind to the poorer members. Save the food and the wine until everyone gets there, because you are all equal in the Lord.
And now we’re chapter 12, where he instructs them about the use of spiritual gifts in the church. Again, he’s giving them instruction about things they are doing in an unloving way and pointing them to Christlikeness and love for their fellow church members.
It seems that some of the members were bragging about the fact that they had the gift of tongues, being able to speak in languages they had not studied by the power of the Spirit. It’s a flashy gift, and one that the Corinthians had come to believe was a “better” gift.
The church members who were speaking in tongues, it seems, were putting down other church members who had what they considered to be lesser gifts. Or, they believed that their salvation was more certain, because they had a highly visible gift, a powerful religious experience.
“I’m a better Christian than you because I can do this, but you can only do this.”
“I must have more of the Holy Spirit, because He has shown Himself in this way in my life, but only this way in yours.”
“I am sure that I am a Christian, because look at how powerful a religious experience I have. Can you even be sure, since you don’t have those kinds of experiences?”
And Paul writes to say, No, none of that is true. First of all, we all serve the same God, we have the same confession, and He gives gifts to each person as He sees fit.
Remember our main idea: The one Holy Spirit gives different gifts to His people in the church with the intention that those gifts are used to build one another up in the faith.
And so, Paul starts his discussion of spiritual gifts in an interesting a perhaps unexpected way: He starts by reminding them our spiritual gifts are rooted in the Lordship of Jesus and that not all religious experiences are of the Lord.
Verse 2, “when you were pagans, you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols.” Paul was reminding them that false gods can provide a “spiritual experience,” but those experiences do not lead to the one true God, they lead away from Him.
Not all spiritual experiences as self-validating. Not all spirituality is of the Lord. Taking a hit of LSD can give you a very powerful spiritual experience, but it does not lead to the Holy God.
There are things out there that feel spiritual, things that are spiritual, but lead to false gods. Remember that Satan and his demons are spiritual beings, just like God is. We need to be very careful about how we are led.
So how are we to know whether an spiritual experience we’ve had or a book we are reading or a teacher we are listening to is of God? How can we be sure? Paul continues: True, godly spiritual experiences will *always* point to Jesus as the risen Savior and Lord.
1 Corinthians 12:3 CSB
3 Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
That’s what Paul is getting at here; don’t get too caught up in the Jesus is cursed line. He’s really just using that as an extreme opposite of the next, truthful line: Only by the Holy Spirit can someone say truthfully, in faith that Jesus is Lord. And that is the marker of a true, valid, godly spiritual experience: It will always proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
And so we need to ask ourselves: Is what we are reading as spiritual literature declaring that Jesus is Lord? Explicitly, with clarity, that Jesus is Lord.
I’ve seen in nearly every church that I’ve been in a tendency to be drawn to teachers and authors who claim that there is some sort of secret knowledge in the Bible that will take you to a higher level of Christianity. Or, writers who use spiritual language but when you read closely it’s about achieving your own dreams and fulfilling your own desires. They never actually talk about the risen Savior, Jesus. They may speak of the forgiveness of sins and the repaired relationship with God, but Jesus is nowhere to be found.
We don’t need a cool, new thing. We don’t need to look for hidden messages. There are no secret codes in the Bible. You don’t need to add numbers together or look at a page sideways to uncover some hidden truth. Nothing needs to be unlocked in Scripture. No mystery needs to be revealed and if what you are reading says otherwise, it is a spiritual experience that is leading you toward a mute idol. God is fully revealed in Jesus.
Self-actualization or some idea that we need to plug in to God on a deeper level in order to achieve our highest sense of being, that is spiritual nonsense that is leading to a mute idol.
The secret of the Bible is that Jesus is Lord, which is not much of a secret in the Bible. And the spiritual experiences, teachers, and writers who lead us toward the one true God will declare that Jesus is Lord.
Don’t be fooled by a spiritual experience that you may have had. Walking down an aisle is a spiritual experience that I dare say many have had. But, can you say, in truth and with faith, that Jesus is your Lord? Anyone can say the words, of course. But it is only by the Spirit, Paul says, that we are able to say it with faith.
Is Jesus Lord? That is the foundation of any other discussion we might have today about spirituality and spiritual gifts.
The fundamental truth of the Christian faith is that Jesus is Lord. Because Jesus humbled himself, God exalted him and installed him at his right hand as Lord of all and he sits as ruler over the entire cosmos. (Phil. 2:6–11).
And since the lordship of Jesus is central to the Christian faith, salvation comes when people confess Jesus as Lord.
Romans 10:9 CSB
9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Pagans were enticed and driven by false gods, but those who are believers confess that Jesus is Lord and Jesus alone is Lord. That confession is not self-generated but is the work of the Holy Spirit. All the gifts we exercise flow from Jesus’ lordship and sovereignty.
Moving forward: after Paul roots his discussion in the Lordship of Jesus, he then moves on to explain some things to them regarding spiritual gifts. In the rest of our text this morning, Paul’s main point is this: though there are many gifts, they all come from the one Spirit, who gives as He wills and they are to be used for the common good.
Read with me, starting in verse 4:
1 Corinthians 12:4–6 CSB
4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God works all of them in each person.
The church, just like the human body, has diversity in our unity. Our bodies all have different parts, and yet they work together for the health of the body. In the spiritual body of the church, we all possess gifts from the same Holy Spirit, we all serve the same Lord Jesus Christ, and we all share in the workings of the same God, our Father.
What a great passage to shed light on the triune nature of God, by the way. One Spirit, one Lord, one Father, all the sharing the same divine status as God.
The Spirit equips believers with different spiritual gifts, giving them out as He desires. We are not going to go through each of the spiritual gifts listed here and try to define them or show exactly what each of them are. That’s beyond the scope of what I want to emphasize in this quick series in Corinthians. Perhaps one day in the future we’ll do a deeper, longer series in this book.
The point today firstly, is that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to every believer.
And now, as we look at verse 7, we get to the next part of Paul’s main point:
1 Corinthians 12:7 CSB
7 A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good:
The reason that we are given spiritual gifts is to build each other up and to serve one another. They are not to shine a spotlight on ourselves. The gifts are given so that we might serve. Look again at what Paul says in verse 5: “And there are different ministries, but the same Lord.” That word ministries means service. It’s the same word we get deacon from, the lead servants of the church.
We are all given gifts, various manifestations of the Holy Spirit, with the purpose of serving the rest of the body of the church.
I want to close with three quick thoughts…really, three temptations to be wary of regarding spiritual gifts. Three things NOT to do with your spiritual gift. Remember, if you are a disciple of Jesus, you have been given at least one manifestation of the Spirit. Here’s how not to use them:
First, don’t use it to build yourself up and don’t brag about it. The Corinthians were convinced that the flashiest gift, speaking in tongues was the best because it was the most visible. Everyone can see you exercising this gift if you get up in church and start speaking in another language. No doubt it was a good gift! Paul says later that he wishes the Holy Spirit gave that ability to everyone! Tongues was a good gift.
But in Corinth, those who were able to speak in that way assumed they were better than the others.
That is not the case. All the gifts are meant to be used for the common good. Those with the gift of knowledge are to use it to share that knowledge with others. Those with a gift of spiritual faith are to build up the faith of others. Our gifts are not meant to show off how great we are; for goodness’ sake they’re gifts! We had nothing to do with it! Don’t boast of your gift and don’t use it to put yourself on a pedestal, especially if it’s a visible gift.
Secondly, don’t complain about your gift or be envious of someone else’s, especially if yours is a less-visible gift. This is the opposite temptation from the first. If some brag about their awesome gift, others are tempted to feel lesser or wish that they had someone else’s gift. The gift of prayerfulness, for example is not so easy to see in the gathered congregation. But it is immensely valuable and deserves to be honored. Cherish the gift that the Holy Spirit has given you. He did it on purpose, and you are the one to exercise that gift in precisely the way He wants it done.
Thirdly, and this flows from what I just said: Don’t neglect your gift. For many of us, it is easy to think that the church is doing just fine without our particular gift. Let other people take care of it. Things are running along alright, I can just come and listen and go home.
No, Paul says that every person is given a gift and every gift is essential for the building of the church. Do not deprive your brothers and sisters of your gift by thinking that there is nowhere for it to be used. We are not lone wolves; we are part of a pack and you are an essential part of it. Some of the greatest damage that can be done to a Christian is when we each try to go it alone. This body is here to help you in your struggle. We are all given gifts to help you and you are given a gift to help all of us. We will not make it if we do not rely on one another in the Spirit.
If you are in Christ you have a spiritual gift and you are a valuable and necessary part of this body. We are not functioning as we should be without your gifts. So, please, don’t deprive us of your manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
This is Paul’s message for us today: You, Christian, have a gift. It is a gift rooted in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and is given by the Holy Spirit for you to serve the church by building one another up in the faith. By spurring one another on toward holiness.
It is not meant for your own gain, or to build a name for yourself. It is a good gift, one specially crafted for you. And the proper use of our diverse gifts is to unify our congregation around the Lordship of Jesus. It is all for Him. Jesus is Lord.
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