Please turn with me in your bibles to 1 Corinthians 12. We are continuing to look at the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the disorderly church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth. Last time we began this section of text by asking a question that seems to be present in the minds of the squabbling believers in Corinth, which was this: what does it mean to be Spiritual? What does it look like for someone to really be spiritual, to be led by the spirit of God?
To begin to answer that question we spent a good deal of time looking at Paul’s instructions, and specifically noting the context out of which these Christians had been saved. Most of them were coming out of the dominant religion of their area, which we noted was a very mystical religion. It was characterized by sensual activity, by ecstatic behavior, even bizarre performances, all under the guise of true religion.
If it felt right, it must be true. If it was unusual, it must be divine. If it was impressive, then it must be authentic. That was the formula that these people were raised with in judging true spirituality. And you better believe that such a calculus was coming with them into the church.
And to combat that, we noted that Paul gives two parameters in verse 3 to show us what true spirituality does NOT look like. Number one, somebody won’t be led by the spirit to say that Jesus IS accursed, that Jesus is currently condemned to hell, that he is anathema. Paul’s not saying that Jesus didn’t become a curse for us, which is clearly taught in Galatians 3 and in Peter’s letters. Jesus did become a curse for us, which means he bore the curse of the law and death in the place of sinners. But he didn’t stay that way. He was resurrected. He was brought back to life, thus demonstrating that God has vindicated his life and accepted his sacrifice made on behalf of his people.
So, Paul is teaching that however impressive a gift may seem, or however wonderful a prophetic oracle teaching may seem be, if it is truly produced by the Holy Spirit, it will not lead someone into heresy, it will not undermine the Person and Work of Jesus.
But the other parameter that Paul gives us in verse three is that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, that is, nobody will confess the truth of God with their lips and their lives, without the Spirit’s work.
We know that people may do wonderful things in the name of God, and even Jesus warns that people will come to him on the last day and say they proclaimed wonderful prophecy and performed mighty works, but without the truth of Jesus’s Lordship reigning in their hearts, Jesus will cast them out into outer darkness. In other words, it is possible to have gifting without grace. It is even possible to have supernatural gifting, without saving grace. Thus, gifting alone without true reverence of heart, is no sure marker that a person is spiritual, that they are truly led by the Holy Spirit.
That gets us up to our section of text tonight, which begins in verse 4. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, though we will stop in verse 7 tonight:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Tonight, I have 7 observations for us to see from this section of text, 7 observation about what Paul is teaching, and I’ll also note a danger that can come with each of those observations. Many of these observations overlap and are closely related, so don’t worry if it sounds like I’m repeating myself a bit. That’s intention, and not just early senility setting in on me.
First observation: notice how in verses 4, 5, and 6 Paul assumes the full divinity of the Holy Spirit.The full deity of the holy spirit is assumed in Paul’s thinking.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God
I preached a whole sermon on the person and work of the Holy Spirit back in chapter 3, so I won’t rehash all of that here. But it is worth noticing that Paul assumed that the Holy Spirit is fully God, just as much as Jesus and the Father. Spirit, Lord, and God are used by Paul in a successive way that assumes no distinction between them, either in essence, or in will. We know from passages like John 14 and 16 that the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father and Son, and that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Jesus Christ. He guides into all truth, and that truth centers upon the person of the Son.
And as it relates to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, each gift by the Holy Spirit reveals a little bit of Jesus’s own character to us. Have you ever thought about that before? How do the spiritual gifts relate to the person of Jesus Christ, and his own Character? Jesus was the only perfectly gifted person to ever live. He was the perfect teacher, the perfect prophet, the perfect administrator, perfectly compassionate and merciful, perfectly hospitable. Each of the Spiritual gifts is perfectly manifested in Jesus.
So, if we know the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to reveal more of Jesus, one way that the Spirit accomplishes His mission is to reveal a bit of the character of the Son through the various gifts that he gives to his body. And therein lies a danger for us. We can be like the Corinthians and become so wrapped up in the pursuit of the gifts, that we neglect the giver. We can be so consumed with the Spirit’s gifting, that we miss the point: which is to see more of Jesus. It can happen with any of the gifts too.
We can be so consumed with teaching, that we forget the point of why we teach: to see Jesus. We can be so consumed with showing mercy and caring for the needy, that we miss the point of our showing mercy: which is to point others to Jesus. It was happening in Corinth, where people were trumpeting their gifts of prophecy and tongues, while neglecting the object of their prophecy: which is the glory of the Son of God.
Yes, let’s recognize how the spirit has gifted us, and leverage those gifts for kingdom service, but let us not neglect to cherish the point of all of our gifts: to proclaim and exalt the son of God who died in the place of sinners like me and you.
Next, we see the full deity of the Holy Spirit assumed in Paul’s argument, now let’s notice in verse 4, from where do these gifts come. From where do these gifts come?
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit
You might thing I’m pointing out the obvious, that the spiritual gifts come from the Spirit, but sometimes the most obvious truths are the most overlooked. It is the Holy Spirit of God who grants to believers the gifting that they have. He is their source, their fountain, their origin.
To say it another way, the spiritual gifts that we have are NOT merely NATURAL. You’re not born that way. The gifts of the spirit, and the desire to use them for the good of the body of Christ, are not the results of good genetics. You don’t get spiritual gifts by going to the right school, or sitting under the right preaching, or confessing the right confession of faith. You get spiritual gifts from the Spirit of God. He is the author of them in your soul.
So what does that mean for us? Well, for one, it means that each gift is equal in dignity. There are no insignificant spiritual gifts, as Paul will explain later in chapter 12. The Spirit of God, the same spirit present over the waters at creation, who is co-equal in power, and wisdom, and goodness as the Father and Son, has given the privilege of gifts to every single believer to ever come to faith. And as such, there are no insignificant gifts.
To think so, is to proclaim some work of the Holy Spirit in gifting as inferior, which is shameful.
But herein lies a danger for us: sometimes we fall into a ditch on either side of the road. We can become arrogant about our gifts, as was seen in some of the Corinthians who elevated prophecy and tongues over the other gifts. Or we can run into the other ditch of thinking that we haven’t been given a really good gift. We can lament in our false humility, like a spiritual Eeyore,
“Oh bother, Woah is me, if I only had a gift like them, then I could be really useful. If I only had the gift of leading, or the gift of teaching, or the gift of mercy like them, then I could do something meaningful for the kingdom. But I don’t. So I guess I’ll just sit here.”
Have you ever noted those two ditches in your own life? Boasting in gifts on the one hand, or lamenting your gifts on the other? To the extent we see such a tendency in ourselves we need to repent. To the prideful, we need to repent of wrongfully boasting in a gift that is only present in us because of GRACE. That’s why it is called a GIFT. In what way can we boast in gifts for which we have had no hand in receiving?
And to the spiritual gift lamenters, we need to repent of neglecting to see that the infinite wisdom of God has seen fit to gift us exactly how he thinks we need to be gifted. He didn’t overlook you. He hasn’t short changed you. He didn’t send you into the world half-done.
He knitted you together in the womb, knew you before you were even born, and gifted you according to his miraculous plan of redemption that you might honor him with whatever gifts he has given to you. No need to envy the gifts of others, no need to be discontent with your lot. God knew what you needed, and knew what the church needed, so trust in his allotment, and glorify God with your gifts.
And for both parties, the prideful and the gift lamenters, remember the point of your gifts, which is to see more of Jesus. The Jesus who died on the cross for the arrogant and for the boastful. Who redeemed from bondage the discontent and the envious. Who even saw fit to give spiritual gifts to those who are so prone to misuse them and neglect them. That’s the Jesus we proclaim and seek to honor with our gifts: the Jesus who used every single one of his gifts to make sure that you’d be forgiven and you’d be gifted with all things necessary for life and godliness. The spirit of God is the giver of the good gifts.
Next, we’ve seen the deity of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit is the source of all gifts. Now let’s notice observation # 3, which tells us why. Why are we gifted? To serve the Lord. We are gifted by the Lord, to serve the Lord. Verse 4 again:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
Varieties of service, but the same Lord whom we serve. We might say, there are many ways to serve in the kingdom, but there is only one king whom we serve. And in the service of the king, every act of kingdom service is valuable. Each spirit-led role is equally valuable. There are no insignificant acts of service, when done in service to the king of kings and Lord of Lords.
And that teaches us several things. It means that in the body of Christ there is no need for uniformity. We don’t all have to look the same in order to have significance. We don’t have to imitate the best servants, mimic our favorite best teachers, model ourselves after the best hosts, or copy the best encouragers. We can be ourselves, express our personality as we walk in the spirit of God. Unity in the body of Christ in no way requires uniformity.
We don’t have to try and express our gifts in the same way. Two people might both have the gift of teaching, but one of them can preach to thousands and the other can homeschool an audience of one child. In the service of God, both can carry eternal significance, and neither is less significant than the other, because it is the Lord whom we seek to please with our gifts.
Additionally, this variety in expression should evoke within us gratitude to God for the various giftings seen in the body. Different gifts expressed in different ways shows us more of Jesus. When I see people around me serving the body with gifts that I DON’T HAVE, then I can thank God because they’ve shown me a bit more of my savior.
When I see people exercising the gift of encouragement, which I may not excel in, it reminds me of Jesus in a way that I might not have otherwise noticed. When I see people showing mercy in ways that I would never have thought of, it makes me remember my savior who demonstrated unexpected mercy to someone like me, who might lack in the area of compassion. Without diversity of spiritual gifts in the body, variously expressing love to our Lord, we’d be bereft of some taste of Jesus that we might otherwise lack.
And that leads us to another related danger, which is this: thinking that TRUE SPIRITUALITY looks like a specific expression of gifts. That a REALLY mature person would demonstrate this gift or that. That the truly gifted are the teachers, but the immature are those who simply hold the babies and change diapers. That the really godly ones are those preaching on street corners, or clothing the needy, or running the schedules.
There’s not a one size fits all approach to spirituality. The truth is that a healthy body needs the FULL diversity of giftings expressed, all of them, and a mature believer can rejoice in the diversity of spiritual gifts around him, and not fall into the trap of making certain gifts of greater significance than others, because every gift is significant when employed in service to the king.
Next observation: we’ve seen the divinity of the Spirit, the source of the gifts, and why we get them, to serve the Lord. Now let’s ask HOW. How do we get and use Spiritual gifts? Divine empowerment. We get spiritual gifts through Divine Empowerment. Verse 6:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
The same God empowers them all. There are varieties of activities, but God empowers them all. Each spirit-led service is a divinely-empowered activity. He is the source of our strength. He is the one who gives the growth. He is the motivation and the perseverance. He is the fountain of any power or gifting we might have.
Whether the activity seems natural to us, almost effortless, or if we have to grit our teeth and bear our way through it, each exercise of our spiritual gifts is an expression of divine enablement that would have otherwise been impossible. Whether it is a sermon preached, or an encouragement given, or a plan prepared, or a prayer prayed, whatever the act of spiritual devotion, its beginning was in the divine plan and power of God himself.
But we don’t always think that way, do we? And therein lies the danger for us. How often do we thoughtlessly press our way through service to God? Whether it is running through our quiet time, letting our eyes scan the text of God’s word while its power remains far from our cold hearts, or serving in some way at church that is motivated purely out of duty and just seems like a chore, there’s a hundred ways that we seek to serve without any dependence upon God and his spirit.
We forget that we need divine enablement to do anything of lasting significance. In our pride we forget that we might plant and we might water, but God has to give the growth. We’re like the builders in Psalm 127 who try to build a house in vain because they do it without the strength pf the lord.
There may be a hundred possible activities, a hundred noble opportunities that we could pursue, but if we’re pushing them without the power of God and in the strength of his might, then we’re just striving after the wind. Let us all remember that without Christ and his spirit we’re just pursuing an impossible task. We’re fruitlessly spinning our wheels while making no headway.
Let us be mindful of our impotence in the face of such tasks, and in our humility, cry out to God to grant us the strength and power we need to do anything of lasting value.
Moving on, let’s look at verse 7 and ask, “Gifts for whom?” Who gets these gifts? And the answer is everyone.
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
To EACH is given the manifestation of the Spirit. Every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, which is to say, there are NO UN-GIFTED Christians.
You might be saying, “well pastor, I don’t know, I’ve seen some pretty un-gifted Christians in my day.” Well maybe it seems so, but if they are truly a Christian and they are underperforming, it’s not because they have NO Gifts, it may be that they are just trying to exercise gifts that they don’t have.
We’ve all probably heard someone teach who has no gift of teaching. They start off, unsure of where they are going, unsure of how to get there, and unsure of how to know when they have arrived.
But the problem for them isn’t that they are gift-less. It’s more likely that they are just trying to serve in a way that the Spirit hasn’t gifted them.
We all ought to seek to humbly know ourselves and consider HOW the Spirit has gifted us. We need to discern our gifts, and put them to use. And it’s not rocket-science to figure out the ways in which the spirit has gifted us. Ask someone who knows you: ask your wife or your friend or your parents. They can usually discern pretty quickly what you’re good at and what seems to come naturally for you.
Also, gifting usually aligns with inclination and fruitfulness. What do you like to do, and what kind of service seems to have the Lord’s blessing? If you’re devastatingly afraid of speaking in front of large groups, then you may not be gifted to teach. That’s fine. But maybe you find that people seem to gravitate to you and feel at ease, and so maybe you have a gift of hospitality. Or maybe you love to talk to people one on one, and you find it easy to have communication with strangers, maybe you’re gifted in evangelism. Praise God.
Don’t fall into the danger of thinking that in order to discern your spiritual gifts you have to have some pseudo-mystical experience, as if the clouds will part and the shikina glory of God will descend and reveal to you the ways he has gifted you. Your gifts are usually apparent to the people around you, and apparent in the ways you like to serve. Figure them out, and use them, because every Christian is gifted, and therefore every Christian has a valuable part to contribute to the life of a healthy body.
That’s who gets the gift, now let’s look at the end of verse 7 and see BY WHOM these gifts come. BY WHOM do these gifts come? Verse 7:
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
It is the Spirit. This is related to the point above, but I want to emphasize the corporate element of the Spirit’s manifestation here. That is to say, within the body of Christ, the church, the Spirit manifests himself and his ministry, in part, through the gifts that He gives to the Church.
God uses the fullness of divine wisdom in allocating the gifts among the body, and God is no haphazard giver. He knows what he is doing, and we don’t need to second guess his work. We might pray that God would grant us more servants, or more encouragers, or more gifted in hospitality or administration, but we need not disdain the gifts that God has already given to us.
And therein is our correlating danger: we can sometimes fall into the trap of lamenting a perceived lack of certain gifts, a paucity of particular gifts that WE THINK are important, and implicitly malign God’s allocation of spiritual gifts.
If we only had more street evangelists, or if we only had more hospitality, if we only had more encouragers, THEN we could really get some work done. Such lament is often just veiled discontentment, perhaps even envy, rooted in pride, because we’re saying that I know better than God what we need in this moment, and if he would just listen to me and allocate gifts according to MY plan, then we’d be OK.
Our job isn’t to allocate the gifts. That’s the Spirit’s job. Our job is to rejoice in the gifts given to others in the body, and rejoice at their being exercised for the good of the body. And our job is also identify, develop, and implement our own gifts, for the good of the body, which leads to our final point:
Which we might frame in this way: What are the gifts for? What are the gifts for? And the answer from verse 7 is that they are for the common good. For the common good. Verse 7:
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Spiritual gifts are given to us that we might each employ our gifts in service to the King for the good of the body. Or to say it another way: it’s not about you. Gifts aren’t given to you so that you might merely have your own private, personal edification.
Some people talk this way, and there was even a bit of a fad in our convention a few years ago that highlighted this. Some charismatic theology became popular among some people in the churches and they began to talk about their own private spiritual prayer language, like they would go into the privacy of their prayer closet and pray in tongues. And they would appeal to passages like this and chapter 14 as precedent for such things.
Now I will address speaking in tongues in due time, but one thing is certainly clear from this passage and that is this: spiritual gifts are given to you so that you can use them publicly, for the common good of those around you, not so you can simply use them in private and never share with others. That’s to miss the point.
Which is our final danger for us to notice tonight: and that danger is thinking that our gifts are primarily about ME. My gifts are for MY good. That’s not what Paul is saying here.
But people do it. They think, I NEED to teach because I have the gift of teaching and if I don’t teach I won’t be fulfilled. Or I have the gift of hospitality, so the church needs to make a program for me to express my gifts, or I have to serve in this way or that way so that I can be effective and feel accomplished and valuable.
We can easily turn a gift, which has been given for the good of the body, into a selfish activity for self-promotion, rather than a divinely-empowered opportunity for self-sacrifice for the good of the body.
And when we persist in turning the gifts into self-ish promotion instead of self-less service, we can unintentionally undermine the gospel that we claim to believe. We’re saying with our actions that the body exists to serve the single member. Or that the gifted one deserves to be elevated. Which was the problem in Corinth. They were acting like the first should be first, which is to invert the logic of Christ’s kingdom, where the first are supposed to be last and the last first.
Praise God that Christ operated consistently with the logic of the kingdom. He was the first, and deservedly so, but he became the last. He was the perfectly gifted one, and yet he became a servant, a slave, Paul says in Philippians 2, so that because of his gifted service, his body might be edified. We received good, because he bore our evil. He humbled himself, that we might be washed of our pride. He became lowly, that we might be exalted.
That’s the good news of the gospel, and it is available for any to receive tonight. Any who would come, can trust in this message of hope. It’s not merely a message for the gifted. It’s for the whole world to believe, and by believing, you too can become recipients of the Holy Spirit, and gifted with divine enablement to serve in his kingdom. Won’t you trust in this Jesus? The perfectly gifted one, who because of his love for his body, so generously shares his gifts to each and every one who comes to him.