Putting it all Together: A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:4-13:13
Paul was writing to the people at the church in Corinth about a specific problem. The problem was around speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is when the Spirit inspires a person to prophecy or pray in a language that they don’t know. While speaking in tongues is a wonderful way to pray, the problem was that some at the church in Corinth thought speaking in tongues defined who was spiritual and who wasn’t. Some in the community were being spiritually elitist, and looked down on those who didn’t speak in tongues. Paul is writing to address this problem, and he makes three broad points. (Slide 2) 1). There is a diversity of Spiritual gifts, but each gift comes from the same Spirit for the common good. (Slide 3) 2). We are unified in Christ, but diverse in the Spirit’s gifts. (Slide 4). 3). Unity is made possible when each member uses their Spirit-gifts with love. There is a lot to say about each of these points, but today we’re just going to try and concentrate broadly on how each point connects with the others. The hope is that this will help us understand how we can work with all the diversity in our congregation for the glory of God. This lesson is crucial for us to learn. If we don’t learn this lesson, then the easiest and simplest course of action for our church is to do nothing new. If we do not learn how to lovingly work with each other in our diversity, the wisest thing to do is nothing. Otherwise, we will be torn apart by our differences. But if we can learn how to do what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, and each contribute our spirit gifts for the greater good, and do so in a loving way, there is no limit to what God can accomplish through His church. So, let’s look at Paul’s first point. (Slide 5) There is a diversity of Spiritual gifts, but each gift comes from the same Spirit.
As we mentioned, the specific problem Paul is addressing is that the speaking in tongues was thought to be the most superior Spiritual Gift. Paul is pretty clear in how he starts out. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. Then, if you skip forward to verses 7-10, Paul talks about some of the different types of Spiritual gifts. These are just a sample of Spirit-gifts, such as “Message of wisdom, message of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, speaking in tongues.” Paul’s emphasis here is on the explicitly supernatural. Paul is saying there are numerous gifts of an overtly supernatural nature, don’t simply fixate on tongues. But let’s back up to verses 4-6 and look at what he says more broadly about the way God works through believers. (Slide 6). There are different kinds of gifts, service, workings, but the same Spirit, Lord, and God. Paul’s basic point here is that everything good that happens in the life of the church owes its origin in God who works all things in all people. This is hugely important for us to consider. Sometimes in the life of the church, there can be this perspective that only that which is explicitly supernatural is from the Spirit. About a month ago we looked at some Scripture passages in the book of Numbers that talked the Spirit having filled some craftsmen with knowledge in every craft to accomplish God’s purposes. We talked about the way that the Spirit filled them with this knowledge was through the normal way that you’d learn a particular trade or skill. What I’m saying is this: Christians come to church with two things. 1). The Holy Spirit. 2). A wide variety of gifts from the Spirit that may or may not seem supernatural. Whether they seem supernatural or not isn’t important, (Slide 7) what’s important is that God works all of them in all people. Why? (Slide 8) For the common good! God has given to each one gifts for the common Good! For the building up of the Church! Whether God has gifted you with the ability to miraculously heal, to speak in tongues, to be an artist, to be a skilled carpenter, to be an astute administrator, to prophetically speak against injustices, to be a gifted teacher, to offer hospitality… whatever it is that the Spirit has gifted you to do, its for the common Good. Its for the building up of the Church.
Now it gets tricky. (Slide 9). We are unified in Christ, but diverse in the Spirit’s gifts. The Corinthian church was arguing that spiritual vitality should look the same for everyone. Speaking in tongues is the badge you wear to show you’re spiritual. A strength of uniformity is simplicity. If everyone looks the same, acts the same, thinks the same, is spiritual in the same way, laughs at the same jokes, it becomes a lot easier to do the same thing. But Paul says that’s not a picture of the church. That’s a picture of some monster, like some mass of feet stuck together, or a bunch of tongues sliming around the floor. The picture of the church is unity and diversity. We are unified in Christ, but each of us is different. Each of us is gifted by the Spirit to function, feel, and think in different ways. Yet we are united by our experience of the Holy Spirit and by our faith in Jesus Christ. Imagine you were an alien blob. (Slide 10) Imagine someone showed you pictures of all the different human body parts, and were asked to put them together. You had never before seen a complete human. Do you think you and your super intelligent alien brain would be able to do it? In a way, that’s our job as a church. In our church, we have a diverse group of people, each person is a different part on the body of Christ. And our job is to figure out how to function together. This is incredibly difficult work! (Slide 11). As Paul says, the eye cannot say to the hand “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” Each part of the body is essential for the good of the whole. We’ve heard this all before. But how do we as the body of Christ figure out how to use the gifts we’ve each received from the Spirit to work together for the good of the whole? Can we even agree on what the good of the whole is? We can easily say the good the church works toward is growing in loving God and loving our neighbour. Ok, but can we agree on how we love God? Can we agree on who our neighbour is? Can we agree on what we should do together to love them? Each member of the body of Christ will have a different perspective on how to answer that question, and that’s by design! Paul says, (Slide 12). “But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?” The Spirit has gifted us each with different gifts, some with super practical gifts, some with super compassionate gifts, some with supernatural gifts, some with super teachable gifts, some with super intellectual gifts, and God has brought us all together for us to figure how to work as a body for the common good of all.
Let me repeat, this will not be easy. (slide 13). 1). We’ve said there is a diversity of Spiritual gifts, but each gift comes from the same Spirit for the common Good. 2). We are unified in Christ, but diverse in the Spirit’s gifts. 3). Unity is made possible when each member uses their Spirit-gifts with love. That’s where chapter 13 comes in. Paul says what the deciding factor whether a person’s gifts are edifying to the body is based on whether the gift is given with love. (Slide 14) That’s why Paul says, if I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging symbol. He says the same thing about the gift of prophecy, gifts off knowledge, radical generosity and costly self sacrifice. Paul says, if use my gifts excellently and extravagantly, but don’t have love… I gain nothing. The only way diversity in the body of Christ can work for the common good is when the gifts are accompanied by love. Without love, even the greatest spiritual achievements become like nothing.
And look at how he defines love: (Slide 15). Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Paul doesn’t say love is only ever being nice, or that love avoids conflict at all costs. Paul doesn’t say love is lying to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Love is being kind when you feel like being mean. Love is patient when you wish they’d hurry up. Love is not boasting when it turns out you’ve been right this whole time. Love is not self-seeking, when you believe that your idea is best and it would be a whole lot better for everyone if they’d just hurry up and agree. Love rejoices with truth, even when it turns out that means you’ve been wrong and need to clean up a mess. Love always protects, especially when you see someone scared, hurt or defensive about the way things are going. Love hopes that despite present conflict, we will find unity. Love perseveres, even when it’d be easier to cut and run.
That’s love working out in community. The Spirit has gifted our church with such a diversity of Gifts. These gifts are for the common good, to help us grow in loving God and neighbour. The only way we can figure out what this practically means, and take steps together towards that goal is if the love of Christ characterizes everything you and I do. The measure of how we use our Spiritual gifts, the measure of your life, will not be in how much we accomplish, but in now we love. That is the point of every single thing we do.
Why? (Love 16). Love never fails. Love never dies. Love never ends. Love will never become obsolete. The reason is that love is what eternity is all about. Paul says that the reason for most of our spiritual gifts is because we are incomplete and inadequate. The Spirit gives us gifts to help us along. But when everything is made perfect, the need for those gifts will no longer exist. Instead, we will fully know God, and be fully known by God, and the nature of that relationship is love.
(Slide 17). There is a diversity of Spiritual Gifts, but each gift comes from the same Spirit for the common good. That’s why we are unified in Christ, but diverse in the Spirit’s gifts. That’s why unity is made possible when each member uses their Spirit-gifts with love. Because through all this, the Holy Spirit is preparing us for eternity.