One Spirit, One People, One Calling (preaching resource for 5/28/23, Pentecost)
This sermon addresses 1 Cor. 12:3b-13, drawing on commentary from various sources including "The Bible Expository Commentary" (Warren Wiersbe) and "The New Bible Commentary" (Bruce Winter).
|"The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost" by Cochin |
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
On Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter addressed a crowd of Jews gathered as the result of the powerful signs that accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus' disciples. Acts 2 records part of what Peter preached to that crowd, including this from the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Though some call this particular day of Pentecost the "birth of the Church," it is perhaps more accurate to call it the church's "re-birth." Understood as the people of God, the church actually began with Abraham, leading to Israel, the church formed and commissioned under the old covenant. The focus of the church in that Old Testament era was on a limited group of people, within a limited geography, commissioned to a particular work intended ultimately to bless all people, everywhere.
On Pentecost Sunday some 2,000 years ago, the definition of the people of God (and thus the church) changed radically. With Jesus' resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit in a dramatic new way, it was a NEW DAY for humanity (and all the cosmos). Rather than being one ethnic people in a single locale, the church now includes all God’s people—a people composed of all races, all ethnicities, commissioned to take the good news of Jesus around the world. And it was to advance that commission that the Holy Spirit was poured out that Pentecost Sunday in a new, dynamic, miracle-working way.
Included in this equipping for mission is what the apostle Paul refers to as “spiritual gifts” (or as in some translations, “gifts of the Spirit”). These were gifts from the Spirit given to the people of God for the upbuilding of the church for its work of living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the whole world. It is thus fitting that on this day of Pentecost in 2023, which brings to a close the 50-day-period of Eastertide, that we should look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians concerning the gifts of the Spirit.
Paul's discussion of these gifts falls within a broader look at the topic of Christian freedom. In chapter 8, Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to regulate its corporate life in accordance with the principle of love. The need for this regulation was evident, for the out-of-control behavior of some, based on wrong understandings of Christian freedom, was finding expression in the misuse of their spiritual gifts—the result being disunity and even chaos. To deal with this problem, Paul addresses in chapter 12 the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. Then in chapter 13, he addresses the superiority of love, followed in chapter 14 with comments concerning how spiritual gifts must be exercised by love and for love. Paul’s point in all this is that in exercising our spiritual gifts, instead of seeking our own satisfaction, we the people of God (the church) should promote the glory of God and the good of others. With that background in mind, let’s now read 1 Corinthians 12:1:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
Though this group of Christians possessed many and varied gifts of the Spirit, they displayed a rather shocking misunderstanding as to what those gifts are, and how they are to be used. Paul’s concern is that their misuse of these gifts was leading to division in the church, rather than to the unity which the gifts are given by the Spirit to enhance and preserve.
Friends, it’s vital that we understand that as members of the body of Christ formed, commissioned and gifted with the outpouring of the Spirit, that we are, in that Spirit, ONE. That is the reality. The question for us is this: Do we participate in that oneness, that reality? Paul shows us that we do so as we follow the lead of the Spirit in four essential practices: 1) confessing one Lord, 2) sharing in one work, 3) utilizing the one Spirit’s gifts for the common good, and 4) sharing one baptism.
1. Confessing one Lord (12:2-3)
2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.Here Paul contrasts the Corinthian’s former lives as pagan idolaters with their present lives as followers of Jesus. Once they worshiped dead idols, but now they belong to the one living God, the Lord Jesus. Their idols never spoke to them, but the Lord speaks to and through the followers of Jesus (as in the gift of prophecy that we’ll look at in this sermon)—and the Lord speaks to us by the one Spirit of God.
A principal message in this speech is the confession of the great truth that “Jesus is Lord.” Though a sneering sinner might mouth this declaration, such words are not true confession. Part of Paul’s point here is that a true believer is always in control of themselves when the Spirit speaks through them. Indeed, Jesus Christ the Lord is in charge. Thus any “Spirit manifestation” that robs a person of Christ-centered self-control is not of God; for as Paul tells us in Galatians 5, “the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control.”
We are also reminded here of a vital teaching of Scripture that God and the gifts God gives are one. Indeed, the Giver and the gifts are one. Thus we understand that when the Holy Spirit imparts to us spiritual gifts, he is not imparting some sort of “substance” but is sharing with us God’s own self. When we are given a spiritual gift, we are given, by the Spirit, to share in the very giftedness of Christ himself—the one human person who possesses all these gifts. As Christ's body (the church), we are given to share in his giftedness—and each believer has a part as recipients of one or more gifts of the Spirit. Who gets what gifts? That is God’s decision.
2. Sharing in one work (12:4-6)
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
[Note Paul’s reference here to the Trinity: “the same Spirit... the same Lord... the same God.”]
We individually have different gifts, different kinds of service (ministries), and different kinds of activities, but it is “the same God” who “activates them in everyone.” Also note the universal scope of this statement: all humanity is included in the life of Christ, and the Spirit is operating in all people (though, of course, all don’t know this). As believers, we should be aware that our spiritual gifts are from God; and that the sphere for administering those gifts must be with God and for God; and that the energy with which we are to exercise these gifts comes from God.
In this emphasis on the triune God, there is no room for glorifying the individual bearer of the gifts—no room for self-promotion or any sense of superiority over others. It is God’s work in which we all, by grace (and grace alone), may share.
3. Utilizing the one Spirit’s gifts for the common good (12:7-11)
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
We share together in God’s work as we utilize our God-given spiritual gifts—the “manifestation of the Spirit” in and through our lives. Paul insists that these gifts are not for individual glory, but “for the common good”—given to upbuild (edify) the church, equipping it for its mission to the whole world.
In this section, Paul lists several gifts of the Spirit. Other gift lists are found in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1Peter 4. When we combine these lists, we end up with about 20 gifts. However, since these lists vary, we understand them as representative, not exhaustive. No doubt, there are other gifts God imparts to us for the benefit of the work of the church in advancing the gospel in the world.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul mentions gifts that are prominent in the church at Corinth, including the gift of prophecy (v10). In the early church, this was both a gift and an office—prophets had a special place in the early church in conveying messages from God to edify, encourage and comfort the church. Though this office is probably no longer in operation, the gift of prophecy may, indeed, continue—perhaps through inspired preaching and teaching, perhaps counseling. But however such words of exhortation and encouragement are delivered, all such messages must continue to be tested by the church and line up with Holy Scripture.
Another gift Paul mentions is miraculous powers (v 10). These were part of the credentials of God’s servants and included various types of miracles. These had a special place of prominence in the early church in validating the ministry of the apostles and prophets. They still seem to be present in the church today, but perhaps for different reasons.
Paul also mentions gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues, and the message of wisdom and the message of knowledge. Paul’s concern here is not so much the method or mechanics of these messages, but their content—his point being that all such messages must edify the church and not exalt the message-bearer. Paul also mentions the gift of faith, apparently a special ability to trust deeply in God and obediently follow God in response to the declaration of God’s will for the church.
The gift of distinguishing between spirits is also mentioned. This was an important gift in the early church since Satan tried to counterfeit the work of God and the word of God. Today, the Spirit especially uses Holy Scripture to give us this vital discernment—helping us distinguish true teachers from false.
Though we thank God for all the gifts he gives us, we are not fixated upon any one of them. To be fixated would be to fail to understand the main reason the gifts are given: to enhance our service of the Lord and to unite all our ministries together in one body. As Paul says in v11, the Holy Spirit bestows these gifts “just as he determines”—not as we might want. None of us should complain about, or boast about our gifts. To do so would be to miss out on the purpose for which the gifts are given.
And so we are to utilize the gifts the Spirit gives us confessing one Lord, sharing one work and utilizing the one Spirit’s gifts for the common good. And then Paul mesions a fourth factor in utilizing these gifts:
4. Sharing one baptism (12:12-13)
12 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. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Again, Paul emphasizes that the church is Christ’s one united body. The Holy Spirit establishes this unity by baptizing (immersing) us all in the one life of the one Lord Jesus. This immersion—this participation in the life of Jesus—is for all, no matter their racial, ethnic, gender or socio-economic standing. We are all one in Christ, “given the one Spirit to drink.”
It is unfortunate that being baptized by the Spirit (or in the Spirit) is often viewed as a way to distinguish a particularly “anointed” Christian. The reality is that the baptism by (or in) the Spirit includes all, and incorporates all into the one body of Christ without distinction. In this common incorporation there is true unity, and we must embrace, respect, and seek to promote and preserve that unity in how we use our spiritual gifts.
As on this day of Pentecost we celebrate the re-birth of the church, let us do so remembering that we are many members united by the one Spirit in one body, privileged to participate in the Lord’s one ministry in and through his one church, using the gifts the Spirit has bestowed upon us as God wills.
The Holy Spirit has, and today continues to impart to the church a diversity of such gifts. And though the gifts are given to individuals, they are not given to promote individualism—rather they are given to create and enhance the unity of the church in advancing the mission of God in the world.
The unity that God intends for the church is a oneness that both embraces and promotes diversity. As Paul goes on to point out in the rest of 1 Corinthians 12, it is the diversity of individuals and their diverse giftedness that leads to the kind of unity God intends. When our spiritual gifts are exercised with spiritual maturity, which involves love for one another, a wonderful unity-in-diversity emerges.
Dear friends, spiritual giftedness is important, it’s a great blessing. But unity achieved through love is far more important. So, people of God, let us use our gifts, but always and only as God intends—in love, with an eye toward the unity of the body of Christ. Amen.