It’s been kind of hot in the sanctuary the last several Sundays and for a while we thought the air conditioner was broken. It turns out that someone had been playing around with the thermostat and it was set for Monday instead of Sunday. Now I know that some of you – and I’ll not mention any names here – think it’s always too cold in here. And I also know that some of you – and again I’ll not mention any names – think it is always too hot. Now imagine that every Sunday, we were to have thermostat wars. Some might get here really early and crank it down so that it’s really cold, which suits them just fine. Of course the cold blooded ones figure this out and so they start coming earlier still to make it warmer. What is happening? Everyone is out for themselves and there is no sense of what is best for the common good. If all that matters is our own comfort and needs without giving any thought to others we would not have a sense of the common good.
This morning we continue to look at the teaching about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and specifically what the purposes of gifts are in the church. The purpose of gifts, according to these verses, is the common good. What does that mean? God gives gifts to His people so that together, as the church of Jesus Christ, we may build each other up and so build His church so that we all as a community may be blessed. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.
I. First of all, verses 7 and 11 make it clear who receives these gifts.
If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a gift from the Holy Spirit. Gifts are not just for the outstanding people within the church; they are given to each one. Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given.” Verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” Everyone has a gift, and in fact, every person will likely have more than one. For example, the Apostle Paul had a wide range of spiritual gifts. He was an exceptional Apostle, but this shows it is possible to have more than just one gift. You may not be aware of what they are, but each of you most likely has more than one gift.
Notice that Paul describes spiritual gifts as “manifestations of the Spirit.” A manifestation is when something becomes evident or obvious. For example, if I were to go to the piano and try to play something our pianists play, it would become manifest that I can’t play the piano. When you listen to our pianists play the piano, it becomes obvious or evident or manifest that they know how to play the piano and play it very well! Paul says that each believer has received the manifestation of the Spirit. In other words, as each person seeks to serve the Lord, it will become evident that they have received gifts from the Holy Spirit. But more than that, it will become evident to those who observe that the Spirit of God is working in each person.
A church that uses its gifts not only has the presence of God in worship, but also in the daily lives and actions of the people. When the Spirit and His gifts are being made manifest, we will be able to see gifts in others. One important way we can learn what gifts we have is by others seeing those gifts in us. And we can encourage one another when we see evidence of gifts in each other. We can tell them: “I think you have the gift of encouragement or showing mercy.” It may confirm something that the person already thought but wasn’t quite sure of.
II. Verse 7 also gives very important insight as to what the purpose of gifts is.
Paul says that gifts are given for “the common good.” The gifts are given not just so that one person can benefit. They are for the common good or literally for the profit of all. We as a church are a body, not just a collection of individual people. We have something amazing in common: faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that if we confess our sins to the Lord and if we believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for me, Jesus saves us from the punishment of sin and death. That faith unites us, binds us together, and makes us into a unit. This is something that will be developed more in verses 14-27. The emphasis is clearly on gifts working in the community so that the community as a whole may thrive and prosper.
This has some important implications for today. Our culture today is becoming increasingly more individualistic. It seems that increasingly, it is not just “me first,” but “me alone.” People don’t care if they abuse others or destroy others with drugs or sexual abuse. People rob or kill others in our society because they believe in “me first and me alone.” The common good in general is increasingly difficult to find in our culture. The church can be swept along in this attitude as well. Many believe, “The church exists to meet my needs, period!”
One pastor tells of one instance of this. This pastor said that he was in the supermarket one day, and a lady came down the aisle, screeched to a halt within a few feet of him and said, “I left your church. I left your church.” So the pastor said, “Well, if it’s my church, it was a very wise decision. If it’s my church, I think I’m going to leave too.” Undaunted, the woman said, “Don’t you want to know why I left?” The pastor said, “No, not particularly, but I think I’m going to find out.” The woman said, “You weren’t meeting my needs.” The pastor answered, “I don’t ever recollect seeing you before or talking to you, let alone knowing your needs. Did you ever tell anyone specifically what your needs were?” The woman couldn’t recall that she had, so the pastor raised another question: “Can you tell me, if we have 5,000 people sitting in that church, all with your attitude, how anyone’s needs are going to be met? If you reserve the right to have that attitude, then you must give everybody the freedom to have that attitude. And if everybody has that attitude, who on earth is going to do all the need-meeting?” Standing her ground, the woman demanded, “Then you tell me who will.” Relieved, the pastor said, “I thought you’d never ask. This is what will work: When people stop sitting in the pew saying, ‘They’re not meeting my needs’ and start saying, ‘Whose needs can I meet?’ Then needs will be met. When the servant spirit flourishes in a congregation, then they minister to each other as unto the Lord.”
The common good means we look for needs that others have that may not be being met. The spiritual gifts are given for the common good. The question is do we want what is good for me or is it good for all of us in common?
III. Then in verses 8-10, we find a sampling of the gifts.
Let’s look very briefly at the nine gifts that are mentioned here. The first two are words of wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom may reflect the Old Testament theme of practical insight. A word of wisdom may be the calming or insightful comment made by one who through their Christian experience helps others to see things from the right perspective. Knowledge may be more the content of the Christian faith. It may be the gift of being able to say the right biblical teaching at the appropriate time to the benefit of others. The gift, however, is the ability to say the wise or knowledgeable thing at the right time.
The next gift mentioned is that of faith. This is faith that goes beyond the gift of believing faith which God gives to all believers. This is a gift that enables a person to look through or beyond the immediate situation and know God’s love and grace will always be there. It is the spiritual ability to know that God will do good in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
The next two gifts are gifts of healing and miraculous powers. This healing gift is the kind that we read of in the gospels and the book of Acts which go beyond ordinary medical skills. Miracles are demonstrations of God’s great power in doing things that are beyond the natural.
Next is the gift of prophecy. Typically when we think of prophecy we think of predicting the future. However, the emphasis is more on proclaiming what God has said. This is the ability to proclaim inspired words conveying the message of God to those who hear.
Next is the gift of discernment or distinguishing between spirits. This is the ability to determine whether or not a prophecy or an action is from God. A person with this gift would be able to see whether something is from God or Satan or merely of human origin.
Finally, there are the gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation. Speaking in tongues is the ability to speak in an unknown language, but the person doesn’t know what he is saying. Interpretation of tongues is the ability for someone else to hear the words and interpret what was said to the others. Later on, Paul makes it clear that these gifts, while extraordinary, are not in fact the most desirable and can be misused; there are many other more important gifts.
Now this list is not exhaustive by any means. There are other places in the New Testament where gifts are listed. There is another list of gifts when we get to the end of the chapter. Paul also lists spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4 and Romans 12 and we will be looking at those gifts as well. The point is that if you don’t sense that you have one of these gifts, there will be others. Moreover, your gift may not be an extraordinary one, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.
Our first inclination is to want what seems to be the obvious, but the seemingly less obvious and less important are very important as well. Paul’s point is that all the gifts are given for the good of the church and must be used for the mutual building of the church.
IV. Finally, just a word on who decides the gifts?
In verse 11, we see the beauty of the unity and diversity of the gifts. Paul says, “all these” which points to the vast variety of gifts, but all these come from one and the same Spirit. Moreover, verse 11 makes it clear that the gifts are determined by the Spirit. We don’t get to choose which gift we want to have. The Holy Spirit looks at us and the church of which we are a part and gives us gifts that can be used in that place. They are given by God and determined by God because God knows the needs in the church that the gifts will address. While we may question the gifts we have or wonder at why we have what we have or others have what they have, we must remember that it is God who gives and arranges the gifts and does so beautifully.
However, Pete Carroll says, “We have an approach to help each guy be the very best he can possibly be. We’ll take a very precise look at each guy and find out his uniqueness and discover what he brings that’s special, then fit it into our football team.”
That gives a hint of what God does in the church when he distributes spiritual gifts. Only the goal is not a mere Super Bowl championship, but rather the mission of Jesus Christ. And that is something that we must all work together on using each of our various gifts. Even though we may wonder at our gift, God has given it to us and will show us how we can use it within the body of Christ. We must seek to use what we have been given to build this church. As you learn what your gift is, make sure that you seek to use it as part of this community. How will you use your gift for the common good of this church?