Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 2
Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1–11
Life in the Spiritâ€¨Allen Snappâ€¨Grace Community Church June 23, 2013
Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 2
This morning we continue our look at the role of spiritual gifts in the church. Last week I introduced a new paradigm for us to consider when it comes to the spiritual gifts: rather than looking at spiritual gifts as “special abilities” that the Spirit gives each of us, and then trying to figure out what special ability the Lord has given me and how do I plug that into serving the church, there is biblical evidence to believe that Paul looked at the spiritual gifts as ministry assignments that the Lord has given His church – whether it be the ministry of pastoring or helping or showing mercy or speaking in tongues – as gifts to the church in order to build up the church in Christ and help us become mature in our faith. And the Lord then calls and gifts us differently for differently ministry tasks.
This has several practical implications to our pursuit of the spiritual gifts, but probably the largest implication is that rather than asking, what special ability has the Lord given me to serve Him with? What spiritual gift has God given me? How can I discover my spiritual gifts? We simply ask, God, where do you want me to serve? We aren’t paralysed until we figure out what spiritual abilities the Holy Spirit has given us – we can pursue the gifts by seeking God for His direction about where we are to serve, and then trust that if He’s called us to an assignment, He will give us the grace to fulfil that assignment. If you want to study that perspective further, I’d recommend the book, What are Spiritual Gifts? By Kenneth Berding.
But however we look at the spiritual gifts, the Bible is clear that every believer is given a calling and grace to serve in one or more ministries within the church. The Corinthians were abusing the spiritual gifts – making rock stars out of believers who exhibited the more impressive spiritual gifts like healing, prophecy and tongues and devaluing those who had less spectacular gifts such as helps, mercy or administration. Paul writes to correct their imbalance but it’s important at no time does he discourage their use of the spiritual gifts. In fact, once he adjusts them, he urges them to pursue those gifts with even more passion. So when a church is seeking to use and steward the spiritual gifts responsibly and biblically what will it look like? Three points taken from chap 12-14:
1 Cor. 12:1-11
â€¨I. There will be a deep unity and a broad diversity in the church (vv. 4-5)
Two weeks ago Matt taught us about the unity of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to believe in Jesus and we are regenerated, we are baptised into the body of Christ, and we become one with the people of God. Eph. 4:3 tells us to work hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which means that we don’t create unity in the church – God has already done that through the work of Christ as outlined in Eph. 1-3, but we do have a responsibility to work hard to protect that unity as far as it is dependent on us.
But it’s a unity full of diversity! Listen to the unity and diversity found in 1 Cor. 12: 4:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 1 Cor. 12:4-6
Diversity...and unity. Variety of gifts, same Giver of them all. A church that is pursuing the spiritual gifts should expect to see an array of ministries develop that are very diverse from each other and yet held together by a unity of message and purpose: to glorify Jesus, spread the gospel, and anchor lives in the word of God.
It’s important for a church, while holding onto the deep unity of the non-negotiable tenets of our Christian faith, to also celebrate diversity in all aspects of Christian life that aren’t the non-negotiable foundations of our Christian faith. If we don’t, there will be a subtle pressure for believers to conform to one another. Conformity is when we all try to look the same, act the same, think the same, and talk the same. And in the area of spiritual gifts, we all try to conform the gifts to a non-biblical template.
God is a wonderfully creative God. Although He Himself never changes, He is not a stagnant God – everything around Him is changing and fresh all the time. And He must love diversity because His creation is full of it. There are over 400,000 different flowering plant species – if I were creating the earth, I’d get bored after creating the first 50 flowering plants and say, “that’s good enough.” But God thought up over 400K different types – just flowering plant species!
In the billions of people who have lived on the earth, they say that no two people have the exact same fingerprints. There is a great commonality among humans: most of us have two hands, and ten fingers – unity. But we all have these unique markers at the end of our fingers that identify us as uniquely us. God has woven unity and diversity into His creation.
So it is with the spiritual gifts. Paul doesn’t mention every spiritual gift possibility – these lists aren’t exhaustive. But he does list the diversity. From miracles to mercy, healing to helps, gifts come in all shapes and sizes. And as the Holy Spirit works through the spiritual gifts in a church, we should expect to see, not conformity, but diversity held together by a deep bond of unity – that is, Christ and His gospel.
Last week I suggested that the question, how am I gifted and how do I discover my spiritual gifts to serve the church may not be the best question, but rather, where is God calling me to serve? In what ministry? And where God calls He will give grace. Better question, but typically (not always, but typically) God will call and gift us in ministry assignments that do match our particular shape, gifting and burden. Eric and Maria felt the Lord burden their heart to go to Tanzania and use their artistic gifts to help others learn their craft so they can support themselves . Eric and Maria are uniquely shaped and gifted to serve in that way. There’s no way I could do what they’re doing – if I tried to teach them to do artistic crafts to support themselves, I’d feel sorry for the poor souls I worked with – they would be doomed to poverty! God has equipped, shaped, and burdened them to the ministry assignment He has called them to.
I remember in the summer of 2006 at a prayer meeting we asked God to send us a sound dude – no one. A week later I got an email from a guy named Derrick who had visited us once a couple months previously and he wanted to let me know that he and his family were moving here from Arizona in a couple weeks. Answer to prayer! At point Derrick told me it was his spiritual goal to meet every nerd in SGM. Over the years he has developed a business that serves church plants in their sound equipment needs, and the Lord is moving him on in August to Texas. A small ministry assignment – helping a small church with sound – grew into something much larger. He is uniquely graced and shaped for that ministry assignment.
There are others out there – God has shaped you and graced you. Not perfectly developed, maybe not developed at all, but He has a ministry assignment for you. As people move on, new people are challenged to step up to the need and use their gifts to meet that need.
The reality is that we need each other and we need what we each bring to the party. That’s the way God has made it to be. Unity. Diversity. At the same time. How has God shaped you to serve? What has He gifted you to do? What has He impassioned you to do? What are you good at? In the church there should be a broad diversity of gifts and ministries that work together to reflect the deep unity of the gospel.
II. The motive for ministry (the spiritual gifts) will be love
Few things in the church are as ripe for being high jacked by pride and selfish ambition as the spiritual gifts are. One of the most spiritually gifted churches I ever attended was also one of the relationally coldest churches I ever attended – people weren’t close to each other. There was a lot of jockeying for position but not a lot of warm honesty and care. The Corinthians were flowing in the spiritual gifts, but they were also flowing in spiritual pride as they used the gifts to assess each other’s spiritual maturity and power rather than measuring one another by the fruit of the Spirit
It’s not by accident that the two most extensive chapters on the gifts in the entire Bible – 1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14 - are linked together by chapter 13 – one of the greatest writings about love ever penned. In the first three verses Paul lists the directly corresponds the value of the gifts to the motivation of love. Listen:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if Ideliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor. 13:1-3 (ESV)
â€¨Paul is telling the Corinthians is that the value of gift can only be calculated by the depth of our love.
Without love, the greatest spiritual gift is worthless. Jerry Bridges uses this illustration:
Write down...a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled a whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are the zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. But put love in front of them and immediately they have value.
Love isn’t sentimentality, it’s the commitment to and active pursuit of the good of the loved one. When Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good – he is describing both the purpose and the motivation: the purpose of the gifts is for the good of the church. The gifts aren’t given to enhance the status of the person with the gift – they are to operate through the gifted person for the good of the church. The good being that the church is built up and strengthened and matured.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saintsfor the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body,joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph. 4:11-16
The atmosphere of the church is to be one of love. Ministry then is really just love in action – loving others in tangible, active ways. Ministry can last one minute, or it can last hours or weeks or years. Love warms the ministry so that it isn’t cold and sterile but warm and life producing. It is love that adds any value to the spiritual gifts and without love, even when they are impressive, they are worthless.
III. Motivated by love, believers will desire the spiritual gifts all the more (1 Cor. 14:1)
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
1 Cor 14:1
Out of love, Paul says to desire the spiritual gifts all the more, in order that the church may be built up. For Paul, that is the measurement of the value of a spiritual gift – not how much it impresses, but how much it builds the church up. Prophecy edifies, but tongues don’t, unless there’s an interpretation. So in the public meeting there shouldn’t be tongues unless there is an interpretation. Why? Because it won’t build up the church without it.
If someone here has a background of seeing the spiritual gifts abused and maybe feels some fear about the gifts you might be wondering, should they even be desired? Wouldn’t it be safer just to avoid them altogether? Don’t they just lead to extremes and pride and abuse? The problem is that, while we may more easily see the dangers of abuse of the spiritual gifts, there are also dangers of disuse too. Churches that cease to pursue God’s purposes in the spiritual gifts are in danger of seeing their faith dry up as they don’t expect God to supernaturally use them in grace-empowered ministry assignments. They lose the expectancy in God’s ongoing direction, provision, guidance. They will lose a primary means that God intended for the church to be built up and for believers to build one another up in love as each part does its part. Disuse isn’t a safe answer to abuse when it comes to the spiritual gifts. That’s why Paul doesn’t tell the Corinthians to stop the gifts that they were abusing, he balances them and then urges them to earnestly seek the gifts all the more. The problem wasn’t the gifts, and the solution wasn’t the discontinuation of the gifts, but the proper understanding and motivation of the gifts.
Paul says we are earnestly desire the gifts which means each of us should be actively pursuing the spiritual gifts in our lives and church. What ministry assignment has God graced you to serve in? What part has God called you to play as the body builds itself up in love, each part doing its part? As we close, a couple thoughts for how we pursue and steward the gifts God has called us to serve with.
a. We should always be asking God where He wants us to serve. Even if we’re already serving, He may have a new ministry assignment that He wants to give us grace to do. If you’re not sure if something is of the Lord, explore it, press on it, share it with others to get other perspectives. Allow the Lord to give you direction and counsel, but if after all that you still sense the Lord calling you then step out in faith, trusting that God will give you the grace-empowerment to do what He calls you to do.
b. Make pursuing love a part of pursuing the spiritual gifts. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy...(1 Cor 14:1) Paul is saying while we’re pursuing the one, we should be pursuing the other. None of us will ever have totally pure motives in anything we do – any ministry we serve in will have tainted motives. Butwe are to pursue love – make sure that we’re pursuing God’s heart while we’re pursuing His ministry.
Someone said to me recently that she was in a church that focused on the spiritual gifts but never focused on what should be the motive. By inserting 1 Cor. 13 into the middle of the discussion, Paul makes it clear that motive is to be central to the discussion of spiritual gifts, and central to our pursuit of the spiritual gifts.
c. Be a good steward of the varied grace God has given you by serving where God has gifted you for the glory of God. Peter tells us that we are to be good stewards of the gifts in chapter 4 of his first letter:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11
Basically he’s saying, use the grace you have to serve others – that’s good stewardship of that grace. If you hoard it, it will shrivel and die. But if you use it, it will grow and expand. That’s why sitting around waiting to hear specifically how God has gifted you may cause spiritual gifts to go dormant – those gifts are stewarded as we use them to serve others and to glorify Jesus. So press in, sign up, and step out. And see what God does.