The famous song “Nobody’s Perfect” by Miley Cyrus says “Everybody makes mistakes & everybody has those days.” She is right. None of us are perfect. All of us are prone to error and mistakes. The church in Corinth was not an exception. From our studies on the Corinthian Epistles so far, we know our friends in Corinth had some serious issues that needed resolving. One of the issues was divisions rooted deep in the lack of a biblically grounded understanding of the spiritual gifts. Paul addressed this issue in-depth in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 on which this sermon is based.
I decided to preach from this passage not because I intend to judge our Corinthian brothers and sisters. It’s because as a church we have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and errors. Tonight let us consider three important lessons about the gifts of the spirit.
1. Received by grace and not earned by merit
1 Corinthians 12:1-3
The Corinthian Church was divided into three groups over the issue of spiritual gifts.
A. The believers who possessed only the gift of tongues.
B. The believers who possessed other gifts but not tongues.
C. The believers who thought they don’t have any gifts at all.
The divisions were mainly caused by those who possessed the gift of tongues as they arrogantly held to the belief they were more spiritual and superior to those who possessed other gifts but didn’t speak in tongues as well as the believers that seemed to have no gifts at all. The believers who had gifts but not tongues believed otherwise. Believers who thought they don’t have any gifts at all judged themselves as less spiritual and suffered from a sense of inferiority. They were ignorant of spiritual gifts, (1 Corinthians 12:1).
The first step toward a solution to this problem was to remind them, that the impartation of spiritual gifts isn’t dependent on personal worth. (Nobody will be worthy enough if it was so.) Spiritual gifts are purely a byproduct of divine grace. Therefore it was wrong by the Corinthians to boast about their gifts. To strengthen the argument further Paul reminded them they were pagans saved by God’s grace, (1 Corinthians 12:2).
Corinthians were idol worshippers before they became Christians. They worshipped idols dedicated to gods and goddesses of Greek mythology as well as the Roman Imperial Cult. Their culture leads them spiritually astray. They were lost for eternity if it wasn’t for the Gospel which Paul preached to them.
Besides they condemned Jesus as a cursed person prior to their conversion based on the reports they received from the unbelieving Jews, (Who also lived among them). But now by the grace of God, they have become followers of that same Jesus. The one who baptizes everyone with the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit by whom the Corinthians were given the spiritual gifts. So it’s not right for them to boast about gifts they didn’t earn, (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Like those Corinthians, we too were pagans living under the wrath of God, (Ephesians 2:1-5). But God saved us and imparted his gifts to us because we need divine skills to respond to God’s divine call and be available for his service. We didn’t earn our gifts. We received them by grace.
2. Given by the same spirit for common good
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
In these verses, Paul is addressing the Corinthians who thought they didn’t have any gifts at all and the ones who possessed gifts but not tongues. He says “There are different kinds of gifts”. Paul is saying there is a countless number of unknown gifts. These gifts can be significant or insignificant. Still, all of them are distributed by the same Holy Spirit for the common good, (1 Corinthians 12:4).
Paul emphasized the common good for a reason. In Corinth, there were many rich people famous for providing benefactions of food, festivals, or buildings in the name of “welfare” or “common good” as they called it. (Ex: It is said the magistrate Erastus laid a piazza by the theater in Corinth from his own money as a benefaction to the city.)
Such benefactions gave status to the individual donor, especially if the new building or the facility carried a Latin inscription, sometimes with the letters fitted with bronze. So Paul is reminding the congregation in Corinth, that the gifts of the spirit were given to them for the edification of the church, not for personal gain as some thought, (2 Corinthians 12:5-11).
The number of gifts is countless because God has given each one of us at least one gift. Nobody can dare say he or she doesn’t have any. (a few months ago we distributed an inclusive list titled Spiritual Gifts: Those specifically mentioned or indicated in the Bible. Click here if you missed it.) God has definitely given each one of you a gift. You must discover that gift and fan it into flame for common good, (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).
3. Unity in diversity creates a balanced body
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Moving on to the final phase of my sermon, now Paul addresses the issue of disrespect for each other’s gifts. In these verses, he reminds the church is the body of Christ, (Acts 9:4). Even as the human body is one but formed of many parts so is the church. The Corinthian congregation was a mixed assembly. In it were Jews, Gentiles, former Slaves, and even slaves! Paul is saying if Jesus baptized them with the Holy Spirit and didn’t take their race or class into account neither did they have the right to judge one another based on the significance of the gifts, (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
Then Paul proceeds to explain Christians cannot use their gifts effectively unless they exercise them in a local church, (1 Corinthians 12:15-16). An individual with a brilliant gift but without a church is much like a Gold Fish out of water.
Another fitting example would be a limb severed from its body. It will die and become useless if not surgically reattached to its body in less than 12 hours. Internal organs are not an exception either. Apart from the body the limbs and the organs cannot even survive let alone function because that’s the way God designed them.
Spiritual gifts are governed by a similar principle. By design, they have to be exercised within the church. Of course, one can come out of the church and exercise his gift in his own context for a limited period of time. Nevertheless, the gift will gradually die because it has been removed from the body of Christ, (The lifeline of any spiritual gift).
Then Paul moves on to emphasize the importance of the diversity of the Spiritual Gifts, (1 Corinthians 12:17-20). We know that all the parts of the human body don’t have the same functionality. Imagine my whole body was one big mouth. Not only it will look bizarre but I will be a poor communicator because I need my hands and eyes also for effective communication.
The Corinthian believers who spoke in tongues erroneously ruled out the necessity for every other gift because they thought tongues were a sign of spirituality. Hence everyone strived to speak in tongues neglecting all the other gifts on the table. Paul was concerned because this situation struck a direct blow to the spiritual balance.
The human body is a single unit with many functions. These functions are distributed among its many parts. Each part of the human body has got a specific role of its own to play. Interestingly though these parts can’t function independently, (1 Corinthians 12:21). A fitting example would be you have to swing your arms while you are running. If not your body becomes destabilized. So even though we run with our feet not with our hands, we will not be able to run very far if not for our hands.
Likewise, the church is one body with many functions. Each member in the church has been given a specific gift or gifts to execute one or more of these functions. But we can’t function alone. We have to depend on each other because unless coordinated spiritual gifts are useless. For example, although I have the gift of preaching I depend on many other gifted individuals such as the Audio Engineer and the Media Team to get my message across to you. Without them chances are thin I will be able to use my gift to its full potential.
Then we also have certain parts in our body which are weak but indispensable, (1 Corinthians 12:22). For instance, my thumb might be the weakest and smallest part of the body. But without the thumb, my palm will not be able to hold anything. The church is not an exception and Acts 6:1-7 confirms it. Surely the apostles’ role was much more important than the role of the seven deacons. Nevertheless, Peter and the apostles would have failed miserably if it wasn’t for the deacons. In the same way, there are many volunteers in our church who might not be good preachers or teachers. But their gifts are indispensable because they alone have the ability to do what they do and because of them I can spend quality time in sermon preparation.
Then there are certain less honorable parts in our body that we treat with special honor and parts that are not presentable which we treat with special modesty, (1 Corinthians 12:23). Did you know there are such members in the body of Christ also? Think about the dozen gifted volunteers working hard behind the curtains so that the worship team can focus on worship and only that. We don’t see them often because they are responsible for staying behind the curtain and making things possible.
You may not know it but most people like to label worship leaders and preachers as honorable and spiritual but label the media professionals and technical experts laboring behind the curtain as unspiritual nerds. Paul says those nerds that labor behind the curtains are essential members of the body of Christ deserving the same respect commanded by the Preacher and the Worship Leader, (1 Corinthians 12:24).
Finally in the human body when an individual part is hurt the entire body feels it because that part being hurt belongs to the body, (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). Likewise in the body of Christ when one member suffers the entire body suffers with him. Imagine what would happen if the Sound Engineer or the Multimedia Operator called in sick and there was no backup either. The worship leader will have to minister without sounds. You will have to return to the old hymn books. I will have to preach without a microphone and sweat myself trying to communicate God’s word to you.
Paul concluded by saying God determines our gifts, ministries, and individual differences. All of us are equally important because we serve an essential function, but in another sense, some are more crucial than others. It doesn’t matter who we are in the body of Christ or what we do in it. edification of the church should be our ultimate goal. Paul closed his argument with an exhortation to eagerly desire the greater gifts (Gifts that are more useful to the body than to one’s self.) and with a promise to show them the most excellent way for exercising the spiritual gifts, (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 says love is the most excellent way which I have discussed in my sermon here.
Unity in diversity creates a balanced body. This analogy is used frequently by the apostle in his other epistles as well. (Romans 12:14; Ephesians 4:16; 5:30).
The body of Christ or the church is a living organism in which every member has a different role to fulfill for the benefit of the body as a whole. Although we are not equal we cannot function independently. There are subordination and dependence everywhere.
Some have special gifts, some have insignificant gifts, some have several gifts, some only one, some have higher gifts while some have lower. But every individual has some function to execute, and everyone must work together for the common good.
If you do not know your gift but desire to know so you can serve in your local church, we have a questionnaire that you will find helpful. Click here to get your free copy.
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