The gifts of the Spirit are something really special and really powerful and when the church is in tune with their gifts and the Spirit is empowering the use of those gifts, the resulting ministry is amazing. When they don’t fully understand and the gifts are used to bring attention to the individual instead of God, we have problems. Tony Campolo tells a story about a woman who stood up in the middle of worship in her church and began to prophecy and said, “Thus saith the Lord, just as Moses was obedient to the Lord and built the ark and loaded the animals on and the Lord delivered them all so the Lord will deliver his people today if they are obedient and they listen to him.” And then she sat back down. People in the service were a little taken a back and kind of whispering amongst themselves, “Did she say Moses?” The woman stood back up in her trance like state again and said, “Thus saith the Lord…it was Noah, not Moses.” The gifts of the Spirit are powerful, but they can also be misused.
The Corinthians were missing the point when it came to the gifts, and the result was that it was bringing further division into the gathering – the place where we are all unified in Christ was becoming a place where people were allowing “spiritual status” and hierarchy to creep in. And so, Paul comes and tries to remind them that all of the gifts are just that – gifts from the Holy Spirit. And all of the gifts work together to give the church the power it needs to be truly be the church in the world.
Let’s take a look at our video to get a quick birds-eye view of these chapters:
Back in chapter 11 we have an example of some of the distracting behavior as Paul has this conversation about head coverings that we find completely weird today. He tells men to not cover their heads, but he wants women to cover their heads and we look at that today and we’re like “what in the world is going on here.” In the midst of worship, men were bringing their togas over their heads because Caesar Augustus had statues made of himself with his Toga over his head which depicted him as a religious officiant over pagan sacrifices. The Roman elite then began doing this same thing as a status symbol and Paul doesn’t like it – he doesn’t want the men of the church trying to flaunt their status by connecting themselves with an officiant of pagan sacrifices.
Likewise, women, when they were married would be veiled, symbolizing that they were now committed in a marital relationship. Unmarried women would not be veiled. The upper class of Roman women were beginning to cut their hair short as a status symbol and this was beginning to happen among the Christian women who would have been upper class as well. When the church would meet it would meet in the home of one of its Patrons – one of the wealthier leaders who helped fund the ministry. Ordinarily women would remain veiled when hosting a gathering in their home, but what was happening was when the church was meeting the women were taking their veils off presumable either signaling that they had some kind of adulterous arrangement with their husband, or because they were flaunting their hair as a status symbol to others gathered there and these same women were using their gifts – prophesying this way as a means to draw attention to their own status and thus distract from the worship of God. Please understand that my explanation here is a pretty simple description of a rather complicated social dynamic but in this context what we need to take away is that in chapter 11 Paul is not necessarily overly concerned with gender roles, he is concerned with people’s use of the gifts of the Spirit in a way that drew attention to them individually.
So, Paul comes into chapter 12 talking about the reality of the gifts.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
-1 Corinthians 12:4-6
He is highlighting that even though there are many gifts – there is only one God giving those gifts; and just as there is no one gift that is more special than another, there is no one person more special in the use of the gifts – we are all necessary and needed in the exercise of the gifts for them to be effective. To drive home the point, he uses his body analogy.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.
-1 Corinthians 12:15-16
The body functions when all of our composite parts are working together and the same is true in the church – the gifts that the Spirit has poured out in my life won’t be as effective as they are meant to be unless you are living into the gifts that the Spirit has poured out into your life. We are brought together to bring glory to God through the unity that we have which is given through the gifts of the Holy Spirit working among us.
And then Paul goes into one of his most famous teachings – his teaching on love. But when Paul pens these words, he is doing more than just giving the world a great passage to be read at weddings – he is letting the church know what it is that makes the gifts of the Spirit go.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
-1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Each statement begins with a gift, doesn’t it? “If I speak in tongues of men or of angels” is a recognition of the gift of tongues. He goes from there to the gift of prophecy and knowledge and then faith – if I have faith to move mountains, he says. Then he goes to generosity and care for the poor – each time he lists a gift he says, “If I have this gift and USE this gift but I am not a loving person – it doesn’t mean anything.” And the Christian community that is hearing this is going to hear, if I’m using my gifts as a means of highlighting my own status or trying to put others in their place then my gifts are meaningless. The love of God, that is shed into our hearts and lives is what makes the fits effective. As we heard last week – love will deny itself for the welfare of other people. Love won’t flaunt its status, love won’t highlight its position – love denies itself for the glory of God to bless others.
So, today on this the 4th Sunday of Lent what do we need to hear about this. I think there are three things. First, you don’t have to wonder if the Holy Spirit has gifted you, he has. All of those who claim the name of Jesus have been given the Holy Spirit and the Spirit has gifted us. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says,
13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
-1 Corinthians 12:13
The Greek word for drink there is “portizo” and has the sense of “to make to drink” like irrigation of a field. When we have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit “irrigates” us all – the gifts are poured out on all believers in this way. You don’t have to wonder if the Spirit has gifted you – you do need to discern what your giftedness is and learn how to practice that giftedness.
2nd thing we need to take away from this today, is the call to repent. For some we need to repent of our apathy toward the gifts – just not caring to do the work, the study, the practice, the use of the gifts. We’ve been content to do our church thing, go to our studies, volunteer on occasion all the while the body of Christ is less than it could be because we just haven’t been earnestly desiring the deeper things of God poured out in the gifts of the Spirit. And there are some of us who need to repent of the way we have used our gifts to draw attention to ourselves, or the way we have sought to use our gifts in ways that cast judgement rather than demonstrate the love of Almighty God given to us in Jesus Christ.
Lastly, we need to understand that this is what sets us apart in this world and this is what will hold us together in the storms of life and culture that come our way. As the body of Christ, we are bound together by the presence of the Spirit and his work in our lives – we can’t do this work on our own, we need each other, I need you living into your gifts and you need me to do the same. There is something that happens when we are all together here in the Spirit of praise and worship. I’m not saying that online worship is bad or anything like that – it certainly is a wonderful resource that allows people to stay connected when they otherwise might not be able to be, but I do need to say that there is something powerful about the body of Christ being together – physically – voices united in praise and searching for the outpouring of the Spirit to exercise our gifts together.
Do you know your gifts? Are you earnestly pursuing the gifts and doing the work on how the Lord is calling you to use those for his church? Are you living in your giftedness in love – is the love of God that leads us to deny ourself your fuel for living your gift? Friends, we are all in this together – the ministry of this church and our witness in this world isn’t about what I preach, it isn’t about any program ministry run by a member of our staff. The ministry of this church and the effectiveness of our witness in this world is about each and every one of us seeking to be filled with the Spirit and to live in that empowerment in love and grace. And so, as I see it, there is only one thing for us to say today – “Come Holy Spirit, Come.” Say it with me. “Come Holy Spirit, Come.”