Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1-31
One of the challenges of coaching a sports team is making sure that each player is in the right position, that suits their skills and physique. Similarly, if you’re running a business then you have to deploy your people in areas that match their abilities and passions. However, when emergencies happen (eg a player is sent-off or the warehouse floods) then it’s a case of all hands to the deck, and people will be called upon to do stuff that they may not be well suited for. What is true in sports teams and businesses, is also true in a local church. We’re coming out of a difficult season during which we’ve not been able to function normally as a church. Some folk have not been able to engage like they’d have wanted and others have been called upon to step up in areas they may not be best suited for or covering more stuff than usual. However, with a loosening of restrictions and a return to normality, it’s good if we all think about the part that we’re to each play in the life of the church going forward. To help us do this, we’re looking at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he uses the metaphor of the human body to describe the church.
The Corinthian church had many problems, one of which was the elevation of certain spiritual gifts over others, especially speaking in tongues. Many in the church regarded this particular gift as a sign of their super-spirituality. So Paul helps them to understand the role of spiritual gifts in relation to the whole body of Christ.
What are Spiritual gifts?
Wayne Grudem in his book Systematic Theology says this- “A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church.” The diversity of such gifts but the unity of God in giving the gifts is seen in v4-6- “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit (Holy Spirit). There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord (the Lord Jesus). There are different kinds of working, but the same God (the Father) works all of them in all men.” The empowering of Christians with different spiritual gifts is the work of the triune God- Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Paul stresses in the next verses (v7-11) that it is the work of the Holy Spirit in giving a diversity of spiritual gifts, hence the multiple references to “another”. So where the Holy Spirit is truly operative then unity will result, but when we elevate one gift over another then it causes disunity. There are several passages mentioning different spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:8-10, 1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11, Romans 12:6-8, 1 Peter 4:11).
Why are spiritual gifts given?
The answer is clear. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (v7) Then 14v12- “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” Then in 14v26- “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” So God has by His Holy Spirit given gifts to believers to exercise for the benefit of the church. The church should be strengthened and built up as we exercise these gifts. What’s tragic is that spiritual gifts have often been an area of disagreement amongst believers rather than something to strengthen the church. What’s so encouraging on Sundays as we gather to pray before the service is to think of all the people exercising their gifts to make it happen- greeters, audio/visual, livestream, singing, musicians, preaching, leading, praying, reading, Bible bite, Sunday School, creche, refreshments etc. And that’s just Sunday mornings!
Part Three- Who are spiritual gifts for?
Once again, the answer is clear. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (v7). Then v11- “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” Then v13- “For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body”. Finally, v27- “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” All believers in Christ have spiritual gifts. To be a believer in Christ a person must be born again by the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the Spirit equips them with certain gifts for the benefit of the church. From v14-20 Paul then compares the diversity of the human body, with its many and varied parts, to the diversity of the church with its many and varied gifts. Just as God arranges every part of the human body, just as he wanted it to be, and we marvel at its complexity, so too it is He who arranges every part of the body of Christ, in all the diversity of personalities and gifts, just as he wanted it to be.
How are spiritual gifts identified?
Unlike the previous questions, the answer to this one is not easily found. Something we can say though is this- everyone does not have all spiritual gifts. He ends by posing a series of rhetorical questions- “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” and so on. The answer of course is no. There are no “super Christians” who possess all the gifts that they negate the need for others. The following are pointers to help us identify our spiritual gifts- Ask God. Pray to God for wisdom (James 1v5); What you are passionate about? Look at what passions God has put in you. Seek the counsel of others. If there’s an area you think God might be directing you, talk to others. Check motives. This is important because of our sinful nature. We might want to do something because it puts us in the spotlight. Look at opportunities. Openings may come up to serve. Have a go. This sounds unspiritual but it really isn’t. It’s easy to sit on the fence but sometimes we have to just go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail. We shouldn’t be afraid of taking some risks. To never step out in faith is putting ourselves above God. As the church returns to some normality may the Lord envision and empower each one of us with the gifts we can use for the building up of his church.