Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Gifted by the Spirit

1st Corinthians 12:1-31a

 I was talking one time with a fellow who had worked as a salesman at an electronics store.  Like everyone who has worked in retail, he had some funny stories about customers and their problems with things they’d bought.  His favorite story was from back in the days when people still mostly used desktop computers.  He had a customer come back a few weeks after buying his very first computer.  The customer complained that the drink holder on his computer had broken.  

 Well, the salesman was rather confused by that.  He said, “There is no drink holder on a computer!  What are you talking about?”  And the customer said, “Sure, there is!  You push the button and the little tray slides out with a hole in the middle for your drink.”  He was talking about the CD drive.  It was his first computer.  He didn’t know what it was for, and it seemed a convenient spot to put his drink, until it broke.  

 The moral of the story is that if you have false knowledge, it will almost always lead you to false behavior, just as true knowledge will lead you to true behavior.  The same is true when it comes to the Holy Spirit.  If we have false knowledge of the Spirit, if we do not understand what he does, then it will tend to lead us to false behavior.  

 Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, “I must correct your misunderstandings.  When you were pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshipping idols.”  Ancient religions were not so different from many found in the world today.  There was often a place for “euphoria,” for letting go of control of one’s body and mind in order to experience the “divine.”  In many religions today that still happens.  Sometimes it’s by means of working oneself into a frenzy.  Sometimes it’s by sleep deprivation.  Or it could be by means of some kind of chemical or substance, in many cases hallucinogenic drugs.  It is often believed that entering into an altered state of consciousness opens you up to experiencing God or the spirits or a higher level of consciousness.

 But how do you discern if something is really “of God?”  How do you know it’s the Holy Spirit at work, and not some other spirit?  There were prophets and seers and diviners in other religions of the first century, just as there are today.  How do we know if something is really of God?

 The test is this:  What does it say about Jesus Christ?  Does it lead to worship of Christ as Lord?  Because no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.  And no one speaking by the Spirit can say, “Cursed be Jesus.”  The question to ask ourselves in relationship to any teaching is this:  What does it say about Jesus?  Does it affirm that Jesus is Lord?  

 You see, people other than just Christians have a “good opinion” of Jesus.  Jesus has been used as a “spokesperson” for many different philosophies.  Socialists have pointed to Jesus as hero of socialism, but they probably wouldn’t say he is Lord.  Other religions have a positive view of him.  Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons all hold Jesus in high regard.  But they would stop short of saying “Jesus is Lord.”  

 What does it mean to say, “Jesus is Lord?”  Well, the Hebrews avoided using God’s covenant name, Yahweh, out of respect for his name.  So if they were reading the Scriptures, and the text said “Yahweh,” they would read “Lord.”  So to say Jesus is Lord is to say, “Jesus is God, the covenant God of the Scriptures.”  

 Many people believe good things about Jesus.  They might say he was a great teacher or a model of kindness and love.  But we say he’s Lord, he’s God.  And such knowledge only comes by the Holy Spirit.  That is a truth that only the Holy Spirit can reveal to us.  

 The Spirit always leads us to Jesus.  That is the first work that he does; he leads us to faith in Christ as Lord.  But then after that, he enables us to live and serve in the light of that knowledge.  True knowledge leads to true behavior.

 That leads us to the subject of gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives gifts to all believers.  These gifts are the talents, the abilities, the expertise, the knowledge, and the resources we have.  The Spirit gives them to us to serve a common purpose.  The purpose is to build up the Body of Christ.  As the Scriptures say, there are many kinds of gifts and many ways of serving, but they all come from the same Holy Spirit and they are all given for service to the same Lord.  

 Paul gives us two short lists of some of the gifts of the Spirit here in chapter 12.  And in other places in the New Testament, there are additional lists.  It is important for us to understand that there is no “definitive list.”  There is no full and final list.  I get frustrated sometimes with Bible studies or books on the gifts of the Spirit because they often try to create a list.  We can make a list of the ones we find in the Bible.  But we can’t make a definitive list because we can’t limit the work of the Holy Spirit.  Who are we to say what gifts the Spirit can give and what gifts he can’t!  

 The second important thing to note here is this:  Every gift the Spirit gives is valuable and necessary for the Body of the Christ, the Church, to function at its best.  

 This was an issue in the Corinthian Church.  They were misusing the gifts of the Spirit, especially in relation to the gift of speaking in tongues.  Those who had that gift elevated themselves above other believers and demeaned those who lacked that gift.  This is the reason why Paul twice in this chapter makes a list of Spirit gifts, and both times he puts tongues near

the bottom of the list.  Exactly because those with it were exalting it above other gifts, Paul lowered it, minimized its importance.  

 Those who had this gift saw themselves as having a superior relationship with God.  They thought, “Because I have this gift, I am in direct communication with God.  I have a direct and mystical connection with God.  I understand God and his will better than everyone else.”  

 Paul’s warning is that not everything that happens “by a spirit” or in a euphoric state is necessarily of the Holy Spirit.  There are other spirits at work in the world.  Other religions have prophets and prophecies and mystics.  Just because a thing looks mystical or spiritual doesn’t mean it is “of God.”  

 It is wrong of us to elevate ourselves above other believers on the basis of the “holiness” or “power” or “usefulness” of our gifts.  It’s just as wrong for us to put ourselves down for not having a certain gift.  “The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you.”  Nor can the ear say, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m not a part of the Body.”  

 All the gifts, all the abilities, all the expertise that we have as gifts from God is useful to the Body of Christ, not just the “obvious” gifts or the ones that look “really spiritual.”  

 There are some gifts that we might be tempted to lift up above the others.  Preaching and teaching and evangelism and missionary service are things that are seen by many people, and we tend to think of those things as being “very spiritual.”  

 But there are many gifts that are done quietly, behind the scenes; things that might not look outwardly spiritual but are just as meaningful to the work of God.  Prayer is a spiritual thing, but it’s seldom an obvious thing.  We don’t see much of the prayer that supports the church, but it means a lot.  Some people have the gift of administration.  They aren’t the ones who have the grand visions, but they’re the ones who make those visions happen by putting the pieces together.  Some Christians have the gift of helpfulness.  They don’t look for the spotlight, but they are eager help others to serve.  Some Christians have the gift of encouragement.  They might not be the one going out in the spotlight to serve, but that one in the spotlight couldn’t do it if they hadn’t been nurtured and encouraged by another believer.  

 All of us are gifted by the Holy Spirit so that we can serve the Body.  And all of us are called to serve the Body and use our gifts.  There are no spectators in the Church.  None of us are called just to receive the ministry of the Church, but all of us are called to be in ministry.  Next Sunday, we’re going to do something a little bit different.  And we’re going to try to put this understanding of the gifts of the Spirit to work in a unique way.

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