3.28.21 1 Corinthians 12
Build@River update: Waited until now to update so we have, we think, uncovered all the surprises of remodeling an old building…and a clear picture as best we can tell of how things can unfold going forward.
Delphi was an ancient religious sanctuary dedicated to the Greek God Apollo.
It was located north of Corinth.
It was home to the Oracle of Delphi famed throughout the ancient world for divining the future and was consulted before all major undertakings.
The priestess who spoke for the Oracle would enter a room in the temple, inhale some hydrocarbon gasses that escaped from a crack in the ground and fall into a type of trance.
*Scientists have speculated on what these gasses where…or if the priestess actually just took some kind of drugs and the gasses from the ground were for effect…like a smoke machine.
While in this trance, she would mutter some incomprehensible words, which the priests would translate (often conflicting with one another)…thus the seekers would get their wisdom from the gods for what to do.
This lasted for hundreds of years but the practice had probably ceased by the time Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.
However, the legend continued in the minds of the Greeks…and leaders and others continued to seek knowledge about the future from these kinds “super spiritual” people…as evidenced by trances, unknown language, and evidence physical traits.
Epileptics were thought at the time, to be “super spiritual”…their physical behavior because of their disease made people think something supernatural was happening with them.
The Greek pagan religions, such as many at the church at Corinth had recently come from…continued to value this supposed supernatural wisdom and super spirituality.
So ,when Christianity had showed up…with shows of miracles, supernatural displays of language…all given as evidence of the gospel.
God used this…to demonstrate the gospel is truly from him…he, not these trance induced oracles…is the true wisdom.
They were NOT saved because they believed these shows of power…they were saved because they believed the gospel.
The “signs” pointed to the truth and power of the gospel.
Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man…lived, died, and rose in space and time…and it is through faith in his work on the cross that humans are made right with God.
However, as if often the case, when they came to Christ…they combined some of their old, false ideas with the truth of the gospel.
The technical word for this is syncretism…combing one world view with another…forming a sort of third that is not fully either of the first two.
It’s happened in many places throughout history where the gospel takes root…especially so when there is no mature biblical teaching in place to follow up on new believers.
This forms the backstory for much of what Paul is addressing in chapter 12.
Here’s where we are to date in our study of Paul’s letter to Corinth.
Paul, writing to help a young church, full of new believers…grow up in their faith.
So he addresses a variety of issues specific to their setting.
The issues vary from forming factions, taking each other to court, whether to eat food used in idol worship, marriage, singleness, dress, worship.
None of this is because God is such a perfectionist that he has an opinion on every little nitpicky detail of our lives.
God is perfect…but the word “perfectionist” is negative in its connotations.
It means to be caught up in minutia and miss the larger point.
God is always after the larger point…even though it is no work for him, to know all the minutia as well
He knows, Scripture says, when a sparrow falls and how many hairs are on our heads…not because he is petty but because is great.
A line from an old hymn says “His eye is on the sparrow so I know he cares for me.”
I read of a woman whose husband died and she was unable to make sense of her loss…she wrote “NO eye is on the sparrow.”
-The implication of course is “there is no God there to care for me.”
That woman’s personal conclusion is tragic.
However his eye is in fact on the sparrow…he knows without effort everything there is to be known…and he does in fact care for us.
And his concern is with our hearts…from there flow our lives.
So, in all these details we continually see the real issue emerge over and over:
Grow up…live fully in truth and fully in love…live life as I have designed it to be lived.
This week we stand on the threshold of the great chapter 13…what we have called “lens 13” whereby we can see clearly what Paul is trying to convey to these spiritual youngsters.
Here’s a summary of Chapter 12 and how it is tied into their cultural setting and how it fits with the larger theme of mature truth and love in community.
v. 7: To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
v.18: God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
v.26: If one part suffers, every part suffers with it, if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
v. 31: But eagerly desire the greater gifts. and now I will show you the most excellent way.
Then he does…chapter 13…an exposition of God’s kind of love.
These four verses sum up this chapter like this:
1. Spiritual gifts are not just for the “super spiritual”, every Christian is gifted for service.
*Remember how they prized “wisdom” and certain gifts, and formed their little factions?
*This undermines the kind of thinking that caused them to search for their own gurus, their own personal heroes…and instead they must “grow up and step up” for the glory of God and good of others.
2. God decides how we are gifted and the church needs all the various gifts to function as a healthy body.
*So there is to be no jealousy over giftedness, no discontent over what God has given or not given.
*God’s calling and gifting in my life is for the common good…life is not about me.
3. We suffer together, and we celebrate together…this is not competition we are one Body.
*The physical body suffers and celebrates as a single being…the church is the Body of Christ.
*Just like in marriage relationships…it is always win/win or lose/lose…it is never going to be “I win and you lose.”
*We win together, or we lose together.
4. To desire the greater gifts doesn’t mean we are to beg God to gift us in ways that we desire…versus what he has actually done.
This is a statement turning their perspective on its head.
The “Greater gifts” are the very things the Corinthians didn’t want…their “wanter” was out of line with God’s purposes.
They wanted personal gain and personal glory…the greater, showy gifts.
The Greater gifts were not being the “oracle of Delphi”…but living with whatever gifts, opportunities, abilities God has given you with love and sacrifice.
That is the most excellent way…that he expounds in chapter 13.
A focus on what are “my gifts” are NOT at all his point.
The point is. “Grow up:
BELIEVE: that what God gives me he gives so I can bless others.
VALUE: what God values is love…not some kind of “showy, super spirituality”
DO: now use your gifts and opportunities to bless others.
There are various “spiritual gift” inventories out there.
They are put together sort of like Myers Briggs/Flag Page and other personality tests.
In these gift inventories, people have taken the gifts from Paul’s various lists and then decided what they all mean (we don’t really know for sure by the way).
Then we are supposed to answer a set of questions and determine what our spiritual gifts are.
These are fine, I’ve done them…I don’t think they really tell you much.
I am convinced that our gifts emerge and mature as we seek to serve others sacrificially and walk with God faithfully.
The “What is my gift” focus, is I believe, the opposite of the point here…which is “How do I serve you.”
“Don’t I need to know my gifts to serve well?”
Yes/Maybe…but go serve well and your gift will emerge and mature…you will know and others will as well.
Or maybe you won’t know…you will just be enjoying your gift and others will be blessed by it…whether or not you ever stop and name it or not.
I was in my late fifties when a friend told me how he had noticed how much I enjoyed helping people in a certain way.
I had not really noticed it till he pointed it out.
It didn’t need a name…and it didn’t need me to notice it…but I had enjoyed it and others had been helped by it for years.
If you can name your gift but others are not benefiting…what’s the point?
And if you not plugged into a local church body and involved in personal relationships there…I can assure you that others are not benefiting from your gift like they could be…neither are you enjoying using that gift.
Paul uses the analogy of a body extensively in discussing gifts…this analogy is important in many ways.
A body is a whole…all the parts are important, all have their roles, all work together for the common good.
My brother in law was in the hospital last week because of an infected big toe…unfortunately he had to have his toe removed.
I saw Bill, who is a great friend and person in addition to being my brother in law…just a few days before his hospitalization…he wasn’t feeling good.
His toe was impacting all of him.
I never even saw his toe…it was hidden in a shoe.
But it provided much of his balance and stability as he walked…he will learn to walk well again but other parts of his body will have to make up for the loss.
We don’t often notice a person’s big toe…it is usually hidden…but it is playing an essential role…and the entire body suffers when it suffers.
Let’s keep the analogy going
My 6 month old grandson, Joseph, is learning to reach out and control his movements…but he is still very jerky and unable to control his body parts.
He still needs to be carried and cared for…he cannot help himself, let alone someone else.
To grow up…his arms and legs and ears…don’t need to take a test to learn what their roles and purposes are.
They do, however, need to practice, to train…to be fully functioning members of his “body” working together to serve one another.
The Corinthians prized those who had supposed superior wisdom and those who displayed showy, spiritual gifts.
But they failed to see the utter necessity of Christ-like character…evidence by humility and love…as being true wisdom and true spiritual power.
No one was smarter than Jesus.
No one had more spiritual power than Jesus.
But no one had more character than Jesus.
And he spent his life serving…and he showed what God’s wisdom and power really looks like…by dying for the sins of others.
The Corinthians had lots of gifts and thought they had lots of wisdom…but they were low on Christ-like character.
I’m working in reverse order today…I’m giving application first…now we will read and walk. through the passage.
I’m doing this so you will be more attuned to what Paul is saying as we hear him say it.
I’ll read the chapter and make some comments as we go.
12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
“Now about” is a clue that they had written him with a question…he was answering them.
It appears from this opening…in regards to Spiritual gifts…they were, in fact, ignorant.
He intends to help them not remain that way.
2 You know that when you were pagans (descriptor not derogatory (means non-Jew), somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Paul is poking fun at the idols…they were “mute” they could not communicate with you…they provide no direction or instruction for your lives.
Yet they can influence and lead you astray.
On the other hand those who speak by the Spirit of God will confirm that the gospel is true with their lips and their lives.
God’s spokes people are not mute…they speak the truth of the gospel that can set you free.
He does not mean that only believers can mouth the words” “Jesus is Lord” but that any message from anyone that says other than Jesus is Lord is not a message from God.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Here Paul beautifully weaves the unity and diversity of the Triune God…Father, Son, Spirit into the operation of the gifts.
1. Different kinds of Gifts…but all from the same Spirit.
-We will have a variety of gifts but all from the same source.
2. Different kinds of service…but the same Savior.
-These gifts are for service…they are “others” focused
3.Different kinds of working…but the same God is at work in all of them.
“Working” could be better translated “results”
As we walk with God and use our gifts…God brings lasting results from our efforts.
*The Corinthians had been given gifts…but because of their childish selfishness they were not bringing real results.
-Like a tool or appliance unplugged from the outlet…it has potential for service but no actual service without power applied.
-Spiritual gifts without the Spirit’s power…are going to be without lasting spiritual results.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
There we see clearly and concisely the main point.
Our gifts manifest God’s grace for the common good.
(8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. )
Verses 8-10 is one of several places where Paul lists some of the gifts of the Spirit.
His lists vary because they are meant to be representative not exhaustive.
There are lots of gifts but WHAT they are is not the main point…WHY they are is.
What word stands out in these three verses?
We will talk about the gift of “tongues” and its misuse when we get to chapter 14.
But clearly his point is that…these gifts are “Spirit” of God gifts.
The Holy Spirit has been affectionately called the “Shy” member of the Trinity.
That is a just human articulation of the point that the Holy Spirit’s role among us is to point us to Jesus not to himself.
His gifting in our lives has the same function…that by the use of his gifts we will point others away from self and towards Jesus.
When we make “spiritual gifts” about us…then they cease to be “spiritual” in the sense that they cease to flow from the heart and intent of the Spirit of God.
The Corinthians evidently had latent gifts in abundance…but they lacked lasting spiritual effects…because they were not in line with the purpose of those gifts.
To point away from ourselves and to Jesus.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Again, we see Paul’s determination to communicate unity in diversity for God’s glory.
The next section I’ll read without much comment…we should be able to understand his point by now.
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be 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 cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 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!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, (LIKE SERVANTS)25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The last section he gives another short list of gifts…and then gives his segue into chapter 13.
(28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. )
His gift lists don’t seem to indicate a strict priority in their order except for the fact that he always lists prophecy, apostles, teaching, message of wisdom…those kinds of things…at the top of his list.
We tend to assume prophecy is the supernatural ability to tell the future.
That is not its most common use in scripture.
It’s most common use in the Old and New Testament was to expound on the Word and will of God.
These are gifts that have to do with the truth of the Gospel…the word of God…the non- showy, non-spectacular gifts.
What we believe…turns into what we love…turns into what we do…turns into who we become.
They believed…that the spiritual, the mature…were those with wisdom and flashy gifts.
They valued, loved…what made them look good personally.
They acted towards each other with self-centered pride
They became, or remained…immature.
He is speaking to a church enamored with the spectacular, the showy…”the oracle of Delphi spirituality” with smoke machines and unknown speech…cool, other than normal behaviors.
He says…Okay, Kids listen up…here’s the facts of faith…orient yourself to them…the gifts you most need have to do with telling the truth of God.
So you will learn to live like Jesus in your interactions with each other.
So he asks a series of rhetorical questions where the obvious answer is “no”
Does everyone have all the gifts? No.
But have a heart that desires the greater gifts.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be gifted and used by God…providing we understand what the purpose of all gifting is.
The good of others for the glory of God.
“Eagerly desire” the greater gifts is not an endorsement of discontent or jealousy but rather an encouragement to watch your heart.
Desire the greater gifts for the greater good…he doesn’t say what the “greater gifts are”
Because that is not the point…the motivation is the point.
And even more so…this is a set up for what he says next.
“Eagerly desire the greater gifts…but wait a minute…I’ll show you a still more excellent way than all these gits…a way that is open to everyone.”
“Not everyone will have every gift…that wouldn’t work…we would be a monstrosity…a giant eyeball, or a dysfunctional hand unattached to a body.”
“But what everyone can have…what makes a body beautiful…is love”
Then he tells them what love actually is.
We will go there, on Easter Sunday…very fitting don’t you think?
Let’s finish with one challenge.
Remember how this chapter began…with “mute” idols that somehow were able to lead them astray?
How does something that is not alive and cannot speak…lead someone?
Because our hearts are tuned to the siren call of idols…the promise to give us what we dream of or take from us what we do not like…add pleasure and power…remove troubles and pain.
Idols are mute…yet they sell us on promises they cannot keep.
Jesus speaks to us through his Word, his Spirit, and his people. He is there and he is not silent.
He will not promise to make all your dreams come true. He will not promise to make all your pain go away.
He is no salesman he is the Savior. He will give you his life if you make him the center of yours.
Idolatry and “gift” envy go hand in hand…
When you find yourself consistently envying what God has gifted to someone else…check your heart…you will probably find an idol there…silently, secretly trying to take control of your life.
If you find yourself…in any case…making life about yourself…you have strayed in your heart, mind and life away from the life of Christ…away from the path to mature faith.
Repent…turn back to the joy of mature faith…enjoy using whatever gifts and opportunities God has given you to serve others.
And there is joy in this kind of mature living…joy and lasting impact.