Sermon: Pentecost, Sunday, 4 June 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Spiritual Gifts- 1Corinthians 12:1-13

-As I’ve gotten older I’ve been more and more impressed with the complexity of the human body.

-Usually these impressions hit me two days after a weekend of gardening!!!

-The Apostle Paul says in 1Corinthians 12;

“If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.” 1Corinthians 12:15

-I understand exactly what he means.

-But usually it’s my head saying after a long walk,

-‘I really wish those feet belonged to someone else!’

 

-Today we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

-The major distinctive between Christianity and every other religion is our insistence that God is Trinity.

-Next Sunday we’ll hear even more about this,

-But suffice to say that the major implication of this doctrine,

-Is that the Christian faith is incredibly relational.

-At the very heart of our belief is that there is only one God,

-Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

-Three persons in divine unity,

-Three persons in eternal relationship.

 

-As Jesus’ ministry on earth was drawing to a close he began to focus more of his teaching on the Holy Spirit,

-To the point where at the Last Supper he tells the disciples;

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth,” John 14:15

-And then immediately before his ascension he declared;

“(But) you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

-The Holy Spirit will come to the believer and indwell them.

-Jesus has to go away otherwise the Holy Spirit can’t come.

-But it’s through the Holy Spirit that these words of Jesus make sense;

“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” John 14:20

-For all the metaphysical difficulties that three persons yet one God pose to our finite minds,

-The implication is clear,

-Personal relationships are at the very heart of the nature and character of God.

-And because of that,

-We mortal beings are able to enter into a personal relationship with the eternal God,

-A relationship that is manifest through the Holy Spirit dwelling within the follower of Jesus,

-Just as the Holy Spirit dwells within the godhead.

 

-Paul picks up that Trinitarian formula when addressing the spiritual gifts in 1Corinthians 12.

-And clearly the question of spiritual gifts was on the Corinthian’s minds because in his opening words in ch1,

-He acknowledges that they don’t lack any spiritual gift.

-But having the gifts is not what concerns Paul,

-But their attitude to them,

-And how rather than uniting the Corinthians as the body of Christ,

-They were a flashpoint of division.

 

-You can see how Paul draws unity and spiritual gifts together in vv4-6 through a Trinitarian allusion;

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” 1Corinthians 12:4-6

-There are a number of different gifts that Christians can receive,

-And he’ll catalogue a few of them,

-But they all come from the Holy Spirit.

-There’s lots of different ways that these gifts can be used to serve,

-But the focus of service is our Lord Jesus Christ.

-And there are a variety of ways these different gifts and services can be activated by God,

-But it’s the same heavenly Father who activates them differently in everyone’s lives.

 

-The unity of the godhead which is the source of the spiritual gifts that the Corinthians were so proud of is actually being denied,

-Because they’ve broken themselves up into these little camps within the church,

-And forgotten what the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power is for.

-Rather than bringing them together as one body,

-The gifts are being used as a badge of individual status and honour.

-But Paul corrects that with his body illustration in vv12-13;

“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.” 1Corinthians 12:12-13

-It’s hard for us with 2,000 years of Christian history to fully understand the antipathy between Jews and Gentiles in the first century,

-And just how significant this division was in that world.

-Jews considered Gentiles to be idolatrous dogs.

-The Gentiles thought no better of Jews.

-We probably get the slave and free distinction a little more readily because of America’s history.

-But because of our 20th century equalitarianism,

-We puzzle over an acceptance of a degrading situation which everyone took as normal.

-And because of that,

-We lose a lot of the power of Pauls’ words,

-That we’re all baptised into one body through the Holy Spirit,

-Regardless of whether we were Jews or Gentiles,

-Slaves or free.

-This was a situation which was completely counter cultural,

-It was socially unheard of.

-And yet that is the reality of the Christian life.

-We’re different parts of the one body.

 

-But the Holy Spirit does more than unite us.

-Recall vv4-6;

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” 1Corinthians 12:4-6

-Paul recognises that the spiritual gifts are given to be used in service of God and one another.

-The gifts were given for the common good.

-There are a number of other passages where Paul speaks about the different gifts that the Spirit pours upon the church.

-To the Romans he wrote;

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8

-The point that Paul is making here is that we all have different gifts and they’re not to be treated lightly.

-We’ve all been given at least one spiritual gift and we’re to use it within and for the wider body.

 

-When Paul addressed the Corinthian’s questions about the spiritual gifts,

-He focussed on what we’d call the more supernatural gifts,

-Words of knowledge,

-Healing,

-Miracles,

-Prophecy,

-Spiritual discernment,

-Tongues.

-That may have been because the Corinthians were boasting about how super-spiritual they were,

-And were skiting about these supernatural gifts.

-But in addressing the Romans,

-Paul is much more pragmatic.

-That may be because he’s just told the Romans to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice,

-And what could be deemed more mundane activities like serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading and mercy,

-Are in fact true and proper worship.

-And these gifts will just as effectively build up the body of Christ as the more spectacular ones.

 

-When he wrote to the Ephesians Paul not only listed the gifts that were given,

-But he helpfully explains the reason why they’re given;

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

-The reason for the gifts is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

-The gifts are to be used to serve one another with the goal of building up the body.

-That’s the reason why Paul was so critical of the Corinthians and their attitude and behaviour.

-They saw the gifts as an authenticator of their own spirituality.

-But that’s not what they’re given for.

 

-A core characteristic of Christianity is its focus on others.

-Christianity is ‘other person centred’ in contrast to the self-centredness of our individualistic western consumer culture.

-This is most powerfully expressed in Philippians 2;

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”  Philippians 2:5-7

-Even though he was God,

-Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.

-He didn’t consider humanity to be something beneath him either.

-Instead he became a human being so that he could save us human beings.

-Jesus’ focus was on obedience to his heavenly Father and serving humanity,

-Not his own power, authority or comfort.

 

-All of this flows out of the relationship within God himself,

-Father, Son and Spirit extending their love to a needy world.

-When the Holy Spirit was given he empowered the followers of Jesus to be imitators of God.

-With the Holy Spirit within us,

-We now have the power to be who God created us to be,

-His image,

-His representatives in this world.

-There’s a reason the church is called the body of Christ,

-Because we are to show the world the love and grace of Jesus.

-We are to serve God, one another and a needy world.

-That’s our common goal and purpose because we are all of one body.

-And yet like the God we serve there is diversity in our unity,

-A diversity which Christ will use to build up his body on earth.