I would like you to imagine a car manufacturing plant. In this plant we have designers, engineers, assembly line workers, quality control and the like. On the assembly line, each person is responsible for various things and all parts of the process need to work together smoothly. There are those who are responsible for installing the engines and transmissions and there are also those who are responsible for making sure each car has windshield wipers and cup-holders. Imagine what would happen if the windshield wiper people said they wanted to install engines or if the engine people decided to take a day off. There would be chaos! An efficiently running factory requires that each person do his or her job along with everyone else.
This morning we begin a short series of sermons on spiritual gifts. This was a topic that was requested by someone in the request sheets. In many respects a church operates much like a manufacturing plant. There are many things that must be done and everyone contributing in their area is important. If some decide not to do their part, the church suffers. However, when each person uses his or her gift, the church benefits. That is why we want to take a few Sundays to look at how our church is functioning and how we can function more efficiently. However, the goal is not just an efficient church, but a church used by God to advance his kingdom. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:1-6.
Literally Paul says, “About spiritual persons or things,” don’t be ignorant. Evidently there had been a question from the Corinthians about what it meant to be truly spiritual. Some had felt they were more spiritual than others because they had a particular gift. They may have asked Paul, “What makes a person truly spiritual?” To the pagans in Paul’s day, being spiritual meant being taken over by some spiritual being and being carried away in some sort of trance. The one who acted in the most unusual way was the one who was filled the most with the particular “god” and was therefore the most spiritual.
And so it would be understandable for Christians coming out of this kind of background to think that the most spirit-filled person would be the one who spoke in tongues or other unusual things. They resembled most closely what was considered to be the best expression of religious fervor.
And so in verse 2, Paul makes it clear that the Christian community is completely different from the pagan community. First, pagans are continually being led astray to dumb idols. When the pagans were caught up in their ecstatic trance, they thought the gods had come into them and were speaking through them. Paul here is implying that what is really leading them astray was Satan who caused them to believe in idols and who caused them to believe they were speaking in god-like utterances.
Therefore Paul says, “No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed.” It is quite possible that under persecution some people were renouncing their faith and were forced to say, “Jesus be cursed.” Paul is saying that one filled by and speaking by the Spirit, could not possibly say this.
On the other hand, the only way a person could say “Jesus is Lord,” and really mean it, would be if the Spirit were in that person. Paul is talking about a public confession of personal faith in Jesus in front of a hostile world. It is only by the Spirit that one can really speak of Jesus as Lord.
Paul’s initial point is that what makes a person truly a spiritual, Spirit-filled person, is the content of their words and their actions. The Corinthians mistakenly thought that ecstatic sayings proved that a person was more spiritual. Paul’s point is that what makes a person spiritual is if the Spirit of God enables a person to not only say “Jesus is Lord” but also makes it a reality in the actions in their lives. During World War Two, Hitler had no objections to Christians saying that Jesus is Lord, but he was enraged when they confessed that Jesus is Lord and Hitler is not. To say Jesus is Lord means that every single part of our lives comes under Jesus’ lordship. It is to live in such a way that shows that there is no higher or equal authority to Jesus Christ. To do what Jesus would have us do is the highest and most important thing that we can do.
It is vitally important that the Corinthians understand this. What makes them spiritual is if they have the Holy Spirit working in them and equipping them with gifts. Then they can say, “Jesus is Lord,” and their lives show they mean it.
II. What are spiritual gifts?
First, in verses 4-6, Paul describes the spiritual gifts using different terms which sheds light on what the purpose of spiritual gifts are. In verse 4, Paul calls them “gifts.” This word for gifts comes from the same word that means “grace.” The special abilities that Christians have are the result of God’s giving them. They, like all of God’s grace, are not earned or deserved. The result is that no Christian should boast or feel superior about having a particular gift.
While there are many different gifts, Paul makes it clear that the Lord is the source of all these gifts. While there are “different kinds,” or “allotments” of gifts all are given by God in His grace. Paul uses an early Trinitarian model in these verses by saying Spirit, Lord and God. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together give these gifts in all of their fullness, diversity and effectiveness. The purpose is that the church may be built up and God’s name glorified.
And so what is a spiritual gift? One definition of a spiritual gift is as follows: “A spiritual gift is a significant ability given to each believer by the Holy Spirit who in this way equips and moves members of the church to serve in special ways for Christ and His Kingdom.” It is a significant ability, not just something that anyone can do. It is given by God; it is not chosen by the person. And it is given to each believer; everyone here this morning who believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord has a special gift. The purpose is to do work in God’s Kingdom to further the church’s mission and glorify God.
III. So what about Gifts in the Church Today?
First, let’s make sure we understand the difference between gifts and talents. Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents in the following areas. Talents and gifts are different in who receives them. A talent comes from God as part of God’s general blessings on the entire world. A gift is God’s special gift given only to believers. They are different in the time when the ability is given. A talent likely exists from the time a person is born. A gift is given when a person is spiritually reborn or at different times in a one’s life. They are different from each other in purpose. A talent is often used to entertain or serve oneself or others. A spiritual gift is given for the building up of the church. They are finally different from each other in the motive of each. A person may have many different motives in using a talent: money, the good of others, fame, service. A spiritual gift is used primarily for the glory of God for service in God’s kingdom.
Yet spiritual gifts and natural talents can be related. For example, God may give the natural talent for playing the piano at birth. However, at a person’s spiritual rebirth, the Holy Spirit gives them a spiritual gift. This gives them the ability and passion to use that gift to serve God’s Kingdom. God can take a natural talent and develop it into a spiritual gift so that the church may be built up more and more.
Why is it so important for us to know and learn about spiritual gifts? First, it helps each person learn what they can do within a local church. Once there was a woman who was very active in her church. If anything needed to be done, Frieda’s name would come up. And so when it came time to find a Sunday School teacher for the three year old class, everyone said, “Let’s ask Frieda; she’ll do it.” So they did and she did. However, while Frieda never told anyone, she didn’t really enjoy small children nor teaching that much. Yet because she was a good member of the church, she served but was not very happy about it. In this same church was a man named Oscar. Oscar loved children and enjoyed to help others understand what the Bible said. But because he was an older man, no one thought to ask him to teach. Instead they asked him to serve on the building committee which all men of his age did. So Oscar served on the building committee but didn’t really enjoy it. Now while both Oscar and Frieda is busy doing work in the church, neither is really enjoying serving their Lord in this way.
This is a fictional story but it describes a real situation in many churches. Too often people do work in the church not out of a sense of joy but out of guilt. And eventually guilt wears out and people drop out or they get burned out from doing things that they don’t really enjoy doing. If people in a church know their gifts and are actively using them, they are gladly serving with purpose in the church.
Moreover, it evens the load of everyone in the church. You perhaps have heard of the 80% rule. It says that 20% of the people end up doing 80% of the work. God’s design for the church is for all people in the church to be doing ministry. The church who knows and uses the gifts of its members will be a church that is operating efficiently and effectively because the work is being done by all, not just one or a few.
A church that knows and uses its gifts will be a church that is being powerfully used to continue the mission of Christ in the world. People who are using their gifts will be used by God to tell others of the good news of Jesus. Such a church will be a church in which new Christians will become a vital and active member of the body of Christ.
Knowing and using our gifts is one way in which we can intentionally love one another. Knowing and using our gifts will help us to put flesh on the desire to love others. We will know what we can do to show that love to others.
Finally, it may also help you learn what God’s will for your life is. If you can answer the question, “What are my gifts?” you can begin to answer, “What is your purpose in life?” Knowing your gifts may be a way for you to learn what God wants you to be doing in your life.
Now how do we respond? You can hear this and say, “Well that is interesting” and then ignore it; however, I hope that you will seek to put it into action. If you don’t know what your gifts are, talk to me or the elders and we can help you discover what your gifts may be. If you know your gifts, make sure you are using them as you love one another.
Bill Cosby once told a story about his aged mother that illustrates how useless gifts are unless they are used. She had been raised in poverty, and the family had very little money as Bill was growing up. As a result, she never had modern conveniences and had gotten used to doing things the hard way. When the children were old enough to get jobs, they often gave their mother appliances as Christmas gifts to make her life easier. But she wouldn’t use them.
You have a gift -- likely several gifts – to be used actively in the kingdom. We as a church are already a beautiful collection of spiritual gifts. We can discover them and use them or we can let them go to waste. How will you use your gift to show love to one another?