September 4, 2016
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
1 Corinthians 12:4-31
Paul gives us four basic principles about Spiritual Gifts and how God has equipped us to serve him:
- Everyone Has A Spiritual Gift
- Don’t Despise your Gifting
- Don’t Despise the Gifting of Others
- Seek the Gifts that Build up the Church
Paul is about to start a three chapter discussion about Spiritual gifts – these abilities that God has given us that enable us to serve him effectively. He’s going to end up focusing on the gift of tongues – this ability to miraculously speak another language that was very common in the early church and was kind of abused by the Corinthians. He’s going to start out with a general word about the way God gifts you and me to serve:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people..
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:4-31
What a beautiful metaphor for us as God’s people! Can you imagine what things would be like if the church really lived out what Paul is describing here?
Everyone Has A Spiritual Gift
If you are a Christ-follower – if you have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of your sin – then the Holy Spirit lives inside of you – and he has made you a part of the body of Christ- and he has given you a spiritual gift- some sort of ability that enables you to build up that body of Christ.
Paul uses a sort of Trinitarian formula to show us that God gives his people a sort of unified diversity of gifts: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people..
Paul is showing us this unified diversity of gifts from the Trinity:
- Many kinds of gifts, but they all come from the Holy Spirit
- Many ways to serve, but we are all serving one Lord, Jesus
- Many different ways God works in our lives, but the same Father, God
So just as God is a unified diversity, our gifts are a unified diversity.
Paul makes a very important statement: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Notice that it’s given to each one. The words “each one” are thrown forward in the Greek text for emphasis. The idea is that each and every one of us is given a manifestation – a display – a working – a way that the Spirit shows up and works through us.
Every single one of us has this: If you have trusted in Christ, you have this! So we each have at least one Spiritual gift.
Paul gives us examples of the kinds of things that those gifts might be and he does this in more than one place in his writings:
- In versus 8-10, Paul lists examples like “a message of wisdom, or a message of knowledge, or faith, or healing, or tongues, etc.” He lists eight gifts.
- At the end of the chapter, Paul gives us another list. Some of those are the same – like tongues and healing – but some are different – like apostleship, and teaching and administration, and helping others.
- Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, he lists other spiritual gifts. He gives a list in Ephesians 4 and another list in Romans 12.
Peter gives us a list in 1 Peter 4
Each of these lists is slightly different from one another. There are some gifts that are on more than one list, like teaching or administration or helping, but none of the lists are exactly the same.
There is a wide variety of gifts that the Spirit gives us. They are all for the building up of the body. They are all for the common good, but there is a wide variety as to what exactly they are. So your gift may be something obvious in the church like teaching or admin. Or maybe your gift is one that’s a little less obvious – like mercy or hospitality, which are also on the lists of spiritual gifts. Or maybe your gift is something that’s not even on the lists in the New Testament, like playing a musical instrument or running the sound system. Everyone has a spiritual gift. There’s a wide variety in what those gifts are.
Some suggestions if you don’t know what your gifts are:
- You can take a sort of quiz, or spiritual gift inventory to find out what your gift might be. There are a ton of these on the internet. You can find them all over. We found a pretty good one at this website: http//spiritualgiftstest.com
- But more importantly – if you really want to know what your spiritual gift is – the best thing you can possibly do is serve – just serve. Try out different places to serve in the church or for the church in the community. That’s the best way to find your gift, because as you serve chances are you’ll either find something that flips your switch or someone will see something in you and point it out to you, so that you can find your gift.
There are a lot of gifts, and everyone has at least one. The fact that everyone has a gift shows us that everyone has a job. If you belong to Jesus, you have a job: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
“For the common good”- these spiritual gifts aren’t given to us so that we can just be impressed with our abilities. They are given to us so that we can serve and build up the body of Christ. Every one of us has a job to do.
It’s so important that we know that, because we live in an age where our faith can be such an individualistic, consumer-driven thing. Lots of people might say “I’m a Christian…but I don’t go to church, and I don’t need to be around other Christians. If I need something spiritually, I can get it in a book or on TV.” I know that there are many good people that think like that. But that is not at all what God has called us to. If we belong to him, he calls us to be part of the body – always. He gives us these gifts so that we can build that body up. The first thing Paul wants us to know is that every one of us has a gift, so every one of us has a job.
Don’t Despise Your Gifting
Paul has raised this issue of Spiritual Gifts. He’s shown us that each one of us has a gift. Now he introduces the word picture of the church as a Body, which is one of his favorite metaphors for the church – it’s all over his writings:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
I love this passage. Paul gives us this image, where the foot looks at the hand, and says “Wow! You know, the hand is really cool! It can do all these cool things: It can throw a ball – it can text – it can do jazz hands!” And then the foot says “I really don’t like being a foot! I can’t do any of that; nobody does Jazz feet! I’m not appreciated, in fact, I don’t think I’m really a part of the body.” Paul gives us this image where the foot despises its gifting.
It’s easy for us to do this. It’s easy for us to despise the way that God has gifted us sometimes. How many of you have taken one of those Spiritual Gift inventories that I mentioned a minute ago? Were any of you less than thrilled at the results? Kind of like “I wanted miracles or prophet or something and I got administration instead?” It’s interesting: our family took one of those tests, and almost everyone came back with the same identical gift: evangelistically bold. I didn’t even know that was a thing. We decided it’s probably some Missions Agency trying to trick people into going to the mission field! So we picked a different one for you!
Anyway, it’s easy to despise – to think very little of – your gift. Maybe today as I’m talking about these spiritual gifts, some of you are just kind of dying a little on the inside. You’re saying “I can’t do anything important: I don’t know my Bible really well – I’ve never really prayed in public – I’m terrified to go door-to-door – I don’t really feel like I have much of value to bring to the body.
Listen, it’s easy to feel that way – to despise your gifting. Maybe it would surprise you to know that I feel that way sometimes.
I’m gifted at careful, kind of deeper Bible teaching – but the gifting that enables me to do that also affects me in other ways. This kind of preaching is a lot of work – and I’m slower to make decisions. And Kelley can tell you there’s been more than one occasion where I said “I just don’t understand why God made me the way he made me.” It’s easy to despise our gifting, so if you feel that way you’re not alone. But look at what Paul says in versus 17-20:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
Paul’s point here is simple: God made you the way he wanted to make you. This job – of being the church – and making disciples all over the world – is way bigger than any one of us. None of us – not Joel, not Beau, certainly not me – is equipped to do it all on our own. We each have a specific role to play.
So here’s the thing: God has given you all the gifting you need to play the role that he wants you to play in the body. Did you hear that? He wired you the right way. He has given you all the gifting you need to play the role he wants you to play in this body. If you’ll be obedient, he has wired you to do everything he wants you to do.
- God calls us all to live according to Scripture, but not everyone is wired to be a Bible scholar.
- God wants each one of us to pray, but not everyone is going to feel comfortable leading a large group in prayer.
- God wants us all to be friendly – but not everyone feels comfortable just – talking to strangers about their faith.
Listen – that’s by design! It’s not a mistake! Don’t despise your gifting! God has given you everything you need to do what he has called you to do.
Don’t Despise the Gifting of Others
Now Paul is pointing out the converse – the flip-side – of the situation. Sometimes it’s not our own gifts we despise. Sometimes it’s the gifts of others!
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
Paul says ‘you can’t dismiss the gifts of others’ – “the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ – the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” But the truth is, sometimes, that’s exactly what we say! We despise the gifts of other people.
It’s easy to do this, because these gifts usually don’t just come out of the blue. They come from our experiences – and passions – and our wiring – and even out of our wounds. So there’s usually a personality and a set of character traits that come with a particular gifting. Sometimes, the traits that come with one gift are almost contradictory to the traits that come with another.
If someone is a real prophet, they are usually a little rough around the edges. They are like “just tell them the truth and get on with it! They’ll get over it- they can walk it off- be bold!
That can rub a teacher like me the wrong way. I’m more like “No! You don’t do ministry with a chainsaw- you do it with a scalpel! What we really need to do is be orderly and contemplate or navels some more!”
The administrative person usually looks at things in a very black and white, dollars and cents kind of way. That can drive the person whose gift is mercy completely nuts! Because they are often wanting to make exceptions for people! So we can really rub each other the wrong way.
When I was in Wichita, I worked with a guy who was one of the most disorganized people I have ever met. This guy was a hot mess. He ran out of gas multiple times. He was always starting programs without thinking them through. The ministry assistants in the office called him “the Tornado” because when he came into the office, it just brought chaos everywhere. It’s easy for a guy like that to rub some people the wrong way.
But listen – that guy had a vital role to play in our church! Because he loved people – and he was all about mercy. He died in an accident just before I moved here- and I’ll tell you what: He had thousands of people at his funeral. Because he loved people- and he shared Jesus with them.
God isn’t calling me to be a guy like that, but he is calling me to value a guy like that and not despise his gifting.
Paul says here that we are to honor in the church- the parts that lack honor. In the church, we should always have a heart to honor those that aren’t honored elsewhere in society: minorities – those who aren’t powerful in our society – maybe the elderly – even those who are outsiders to the church. We should just have a heart to reach out and honor them in some way.
Seek the Gifts that Build Up the Church
At the very end of this chapter, Paul goes on to give us a very important piece of instruction with regard to Spiritual gifts. Look at what he says in verse 31: But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
He says “eagerly desire the greater gifts”- or the English Standard Version translation of the Bible says “the higher gifts.” The Good New Bible says it “set your hearts on the more important gifts.”
That obviously raises the question: what are the greater/more important gifts? The greater or higher gifts are the gifts that build up the church. It’s the gifts that serve others and build up the church.
In chapter 13 – the love chapter – Paul is going to talk about love, and say that it is the greatest (same Greek word as the word for greater/higher) Christian virtue. In versus 7 of this chapter, he said the gifts are “for the common good.” And in chapter 14, Paul will tell the Corinthians to “excel in gifts that build up the church.” So those are the greater gifts.
With regard to the Corinthians and their specific situation, Paul was telling them to seek prophecy rather than tongues when they gathered for worship. Prophecy was a message from God in their own language. Tongues was a message from God that was miraculously in a foreign language.
If someone was speaking in tongues, it could build the speaker up because it was a miraculous experience. But it didn’t build up the church, because they couldn’t understand what was said so there was no intelligible message. And Paul says in chapter 14 that prophecy is greater (there’s our word again) than tongues because it builds up the church. And because of that, he tells the church to encourage prophecy as a gift.
What Paul is saying here is that “Yes, the Spirit gives gifts as he sees fit. He’s the one who chooses how we are gifted. But the Spirit’s goal is to build up the body.” So as a congregation and as individuals, we should not forget that the goal of our service is to build the body – and we should seek the gifts that do that.
This is a word for us. It kind of raises a danger or a misunderstanding that we might have about Spiritual gifts. Sometimes we can do a gift inventory or something – and maybe it tells us our gift is prophecy or evangelistic boldness or something! And we can think “OK, so evangelistic boldness is my gift – and that’s my only gift – that’s the thing I should do – and I shouldn’t do anything else, and I should wait for the church to create a ministry with a slot that specifically calls for evangelistic boldness. And in the meantime, I don’t need to move chairs, or greet people, or work with kids because that’s not my gift.”
That was going on in Corinth with this gift of tongues. Paul is saying “No, whatever your gift is – you need to be building up the church.”
Sometimes there’s just stuff in a church that needs doing. Whether it’s our special gifting or not. Sometimes you just need people who will set up chairs – whether the Spirit has specially gifted them to set up chairs or not! Sometimes you’ve got to have someone watch the kids – or clean up – or greet people. Sometimes those are the things that are going to build up the church – and they just need doing. One of the reasons we should do these things is because sometimes, that is exactly how we find our gifting!
My first ministry assignment was teaching what they called Junior boys – 6th grade – while I was in college. That wasn’t something I longed to do – it wasn’t a passion of mine – but it needed doing – so I agreed to do it. That’s at least, in part, how I found out that teaching was a gift of mine. As I served, I discovered my gifting. Sometimes we just need to be willing to do what builds up the church.
In a minute, we’re going to have a chance to think about where we might like to serve – and let me say “there’s a bunch of places to serve here!” Never a problem finding a job in a church plant!
But before we do that, I want to make you aware of a couple of areas where we will need a lot of help. The first area is just in regular, faithful giving. I’m not even sure that’s on the form, but we need faithful giving.
In a church plant like this, everything you need you get to buy. Everything! So, we had to buy chairs – we don’t have a printer – or a copier- they bought me a computer this week! And we’re working on my salary, but I’m not being paid yet! We have to buy everything!
I know some of you were wondering “how did you guys rent this place?” Through the generous, sacrificial giving of our team. These guys have gone over and above. They have some skin in the game! And with God’s help, we’re not going to borrow money to pay our bills, which means that we need faithful giving.
Our kids are all in the gym right now. We looked at it this week, and we have better space available to us right over there – but it will bump up our rent about $1,000 per month. As soon as we are financially stable, we can get that space for our kids.
Faithful giving will build up the church.
The second place we are going to need lots of help is in our Children’s Ministry. We’re so excited about that! We were looking at curriculum this week, and imagining what our children’s ministry could be like.
Kids ministry is a great place to serve. I have a Pastor friend who told me the first place he recommends that someone serve if they are new in their faith is in the children’s ministry. Because that’s where they learn the basics – and the Bible stories – and hear the memory verses – and it’s a good place to grow! We are going to need lots of help there – and we don’t just want it to be the parents of our children. Those parents need to be in big church sometimes!
We want to be an inter-generational church! That means our younger members and our kids valuing our seniors, and it means our seniors valuing our kids and young families. We’re going to need lots of help there!
There’s a couple of areas that can build up the church right now! God has given us gifts that enable us to build up the church. Everyone has a gift – and everyone’s gift is valuable – no matter what it is. God has given you what you need to do what he calls you to do. We shouldn’t forget that the main thing he has called us to do is make disciples and build up the church.