This past Sunday we began a new series on spiritual gifts. I forgot to record the sermon, so I’ve included the manuscript below. We talked about the fact that everyone who is a follower of Christ has spiritual gifts. There are a variety of gifts that make up a needed diversity within the church. Paul illustrates this through the metaphor of the body–a perfect picture of the unity and diversity that should exist within the church in relationship to Christ and one another, and in service to the world.
Throughout the coming weeks we will continue to explore spiritual gifts, and how we should use them to serve the church and God’s Kingdom. The series will culminate in our SHAPE retreat, which is open to the entire church, and will take place on Friday June 6th and Saturday June 7th. We hope you will join us in these coming weeks as we look at how each of us are SHAPEd to serve.
Here is last weeks sermon that kicked off this series:
Living As the Body
When you really think about it, the human body is incredible. It is able to accomplish amazing things, just hop on youtube and you see crazy daredevils doing unbelievable stunts. There are so many processes going on inside of each one of as we sit here this morning, even if you fall to sleep while I’m talking, your body still is functioning.
The human body is able to create life, exist in relationship with other human beings and in relationship with its creator; it experiences emotions, it communicates and processes information, the list goes on and on…
The body…we all have one. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are things we like about ourselves, and there a probably a few things we wish we could change. But even if you don’t like a part of the body, maybe you don’t like your feet, or your ears, you wouldn’t just get rid of it, because it’s needed for the overall function of your body.
The body is one of the most meaningful metaphors Paul uses throughout his writings to explain the life of the Church—both local churches as well as the church universal throughout all time and all places.
This morning we are entering a series on spiritual gifts. In the coming weeks, we will be exploring how God has gifted each one of us, and why he has done so. We will talk about many scriptural truths about spiritual gifts, and also debunk some of the myths and stereotypes about them. We are starting in 1 Corinthians 12 this morning, where Paul explains the variety and role of spiritual gifts within the body—the body of Christ. Let’s pray…
1. Variety of Gifts, One Spirit—the Gift Giver (vv.4-11)
Hold on, we are going to cover a lot of ground this morning. I love Paul because he is very direct, he seems to be a no-nonsense kind of guy who gets right to the point, and we see that in v.4: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” He takes time to explain this statement in the following verses, but in this one verse alone, there is so much truth.
First of all, spiritual gifts are just that—“gifts”. The word in Greek that we get “spiritual gifts” (charismata) from finds it root in the word “grace” (charis). Spiritual gifts are freely given gifts of grace, they are not something that earn by our own efforts.
We need to make a distinction here between natural talents and spiritual gifts. Our culture will often mix the lingo and we can become confused as well. If someone is extremely talented, some will refer to them as being “gifted”.
Talents, though, are something every human being is born with. Spiritual gifts on the other hand, are something that is distinctly given by the Holy Spirit to true believers in Christ. The danger is also to mistake gifts for talents, and so take pride in something that is clearly given to us by the Spirit.
They are gifts given or distributed by the Holy Spirit, and similar to talents, they come in a variety of forms so that there is diversity within the church. Just as gifts and grace share the same root word, the word translated “variety” or “different kinds” in v.4 is the noun form, and the word translated “distributes” is the verbal form of the same word.
As we will see shortly, this diversity or variety is needed within the body of Christ, but Paul shows us that this diversity exists even within the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—“different gifts but the same Spirit, different work but the same Lord, and the same God at work in all.
It’s a divine mystery how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and yet distinct—how there is diversity and yet perfect unity within the Trinity. This perfect unity and diversity is also present within the church. We all have different gifts, a variety and diversity exists within the church, yet we function in unity.
We will talk more about specific gifts later on, but Paul mentions a few, really just a sampling in vv.8-10—he mentions gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith (likely beyond the common faith that we share, the faith that can move mountains mentioned in ch.13), healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, the use of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
Paul is giving us a list of examples of these manifestations of the Spirit—by no means is this an exhaustive list (there are other gifts lists in Romans 12;6-8; Eph 4;11-13). And Paul really doesn’t give us much explanation about how these gifts are used in the church. But Paul gives us this sampling in order to provide us with a glimpse of the diversity that exists within the church.
We see this truth in vv.7 & 11 as Paul repeats the fact that “each one” is given gifts. No follower of Christ is left out there are no copouts, no excuses; and no one follower has all the gifts. All members of the body of Christ receive gifts from the Spirit, not just specific leaders or pastors.
Paul also shows us why the gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit—there is a purpose. No one is given spiritual gifts for their own personal benefit, or recognition, or individual glory. Instead, spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit for the common good of the body. The gifts I’m given, the gifts you are given is not something to boast about or take pride in, but something that must be used in the church for the sake of ministry to all.
And Paul reminds us that we don’t get to choose what gifts we have or don’t have. It is the Holy Spirit who determines and distributes the gifts as he determines.
Here again I’m going to make a plug for the all church retreat at Francis Asbury Society on Friday June 6th & Saturday the 7th. That weekend we will be diving into more specifics about gifts, and looking at how we are each gifted. I’m hoping for 100% participation. Everyone is invited, because every follower of Christ has been given gifts. And we all are gifted for a purpose, meaning we each need to be using our gifts to serve in the church and in the work of God’s Kingdom.
2. The Body Metaphor (vv.12-14)
As we come to v.12, Paul introduces this massive metaphor and begins to explain how the church is the body of Christ, and what life in the body of Christ looks like. It’s a metaphor we can all identify with, because we all have a body.
Paul wasn’t the first one to use the body as a metaphor though. The body metaphor was used a lot in Roman society to demonstrate civic duty—the fact that each person has a responsibility to the whole of society. John F. Kennedy used this mentality is his 1961 inaugural address when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
The concept in JFK’s statement, as well as in Roman society, was that every member of society was needed. But in Roman society it was really used as a way to keep the status quo—to make sure lower class people stayed in their place. Yes everyone had a job to do, but each job had a different status level—some jobs were more honorable than others, some jobs were dishonorable and even disposable.
And so the upper levels of Roman society would use this “body politic” to keep those in the lower realms of society, trapped there. Those in the upper Roman classes lived off the hard work and production of the lower classes.
But as we will see in the coming verses, Paul uses this metaphor to convey the need of each member of the body, yet he reshapes this metaphor to show that every single member of the body is indispensable—no one can boast over another because we all need each other. All members have honor.
Paul says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all it many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. Here again we see the elements of diversity and unity within the body of Christ. And in v.13, Paul shows us the basis for that unity: we were all baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ.
Our baptism is an initiation into the body of Christ; it unites us and breaks down the barriers between different cultures, people groups, ages, in order to form one, diverse and united body. That is the ideal, but that’s not what was taking place within the church at Corinth, nor is it what takes place in many churches today.
3. Everybody is Needed (vv.15-26)
So Paul confronts the problem in Corinth. The problem was there were some within the church who considered themselves better than others. Within the Corinthian church, what was probably taking place was that those who had particular gifts thought of themselves as being more spiritual, and held it over the heads of those who had different, less honorable gifts.
And the people with less honorable gifts were buying into it. After all, that’s what Roman society also taught them—that there were superior and inferior people based on the role you played in society.
a. Don’t look down on the gifts you are given (vv.15-20)
How sad it is that even in our society today, we place the value of gifts and talents above others. For example, athletes and movie stars are revered as being “specially gifted” based on their acting or athletic talents. And as a society we reward them by paying them outlandish salaries. We give them honor, and many little boys, including myself, grow up wishing they could be an athlete, or someone famous.
The same mentality can slip into our thinking. Part of human nature is to compare ourselves to others. And that can even happen in the church, as we compare ourselves to others in the body of Christ. We can become jealous of the spiritual gifts that other people have, and the thought can crop into our minds, “If only I had that spiritual gift, I would be of so much greater used to God—look at all that person is doing.”
We can think we are less important, or more important, depending on the gifts we have. Paul demonstrates this in vv.16-17, as different parts of the body begin to hypothetically speak. The foot says, oh man, look at the hand, it’s able to do so much more than me. I’m nothing, I must not matter to the body. Or the ear says, “Wow! Look at what the eye can do, how it guides and directs the body, I’m just an ear, and since I’m not as important as the eye, I don’t even deserve to be a part of the body.”
Paul says “no way!” Not only are we all a part of the body, but the gifts we have , the roles we play, the ways we serve are all essential to the makeup of the body. No matter what part of the boy you are, we need you; everyone belongs!
I played football in middles school and high school. For a long time I was under the impression that there were class distinctions in football—the really talented people were the running backs, the quarter backs. I wanted to be a running back or a quarterback because they were the ones who were famous and got the credit and cool statistics. They were the ones who everyone in the school knew.
And I also thought that those were the two positions that were the most valuable to a team. Unfortunately, based on my size and speed, I did not really qualify for quarterback, running back, or even wide receiver. Instead, I got placed on the offensive line, I played left guard for 7 years from 7th grade, all the way to varsity. I could not think of a worse place to be.
At least on the defensive line you got to tackle people and try to sack the quarterback. But my job was to block. Every play I was to protect the quarterback, or make a hole for the running back to run through. Eventually I came to realize that I was talented—once I stopped wishing I had some other talent and focused on the talent I possessed, I became a good offensive lineman.
If you just watch football, and even if you don’t watch it, you may not realize the truth that every player on the team knows—without the offensive line no play would work. There would be no rushing touchdowns; there would be no complete passes. The offensive line is essential.
On a football team, each person has certain talents. Each play requires each member of the team to use those talents in order for the team, the one unified body, to be successful. We couldn’t all be quarterbacks or running backs. And every play depends on every person doing what they are supposed to do, and doing it well.
The same is true in the body of Christ. The body as a whole functions at its best when every member of the body is exercising and developing the gift they have been given. There would be no body without each person using the gifts they are given. Each gift is essential.
And so there this diversity that makes the body the body! Without the ear there would be no hearing, without the nose, there would be no smell. Substitute in different roles or gifts…if everyone were a teacher, where would the landscapers be? If everyone could lead worship, where would the nursery helpers be? If everyone were a prophet, where would the healing be?
The danger here though, is to think that because I don’t like to do a certain task in the church, I’m going to leave it for someone else to do. Yes there is a sense of functioning within the gifts we each are given, but there is also the important aspect of serving and sacrificing for the overall health of the body.
After we go through this series and have the all church retreat next month, I hope we all make it our goal to be involved in a ministry that fits our spiritual gifts perfectly—that ministry will give us life, fulfillment, and enjoyment as we serve in it. But I was also challenge each of us to sacrificially serve in an area that maybe you don’t enjoy as much. After all, nobody likes to clean toilets, but it’s something that is needed in order for the church to function.
We all have different gifts, and we all have different places where we will be called to serve. If we were all one part, if we all had the same gifts, we wouldn’t be the body of Christ. Don’t compare yourself to other people, or wish you had the gift they had, because you and your gifting is needed and essential to the health of our church.
In v.18 Paul makes it clear that God arranges the body, gifts certain gifts to certain people within the church with a purpose, just as he wanted them to be.
b. Don’t look down on the gifts of others (vv.21-26
With that in mind, Paul makes it clear to those who may have gifts that have generally been viewed with higher honor, to not look down on the gifts of others. Not only is each gift, each member essential to the health of the whole body, not only do we need to remember that these gifts are given to us by grace and not earned, but Paul says that God himself gives greater honor to those members of the body who tend to be looked down upon.
Growing up, I looked up to my Sunday School teacher, and my pastor (who happened to be my father). They were the ones up front, I thought they were so important. And they were, and those roles are extremely important within any church. But as I began to do internships in college, and even in seminary, I began to look up most to those in the church in charge of custodial work.
They were the people who were there at church when no one else was around. They used their gifts of service when no one was looking, and rarely did they receive any honor. All they usually got were complaints when a mess wasn’t cleaned up quickly enough.
And I began to pray, and still pray today, that God would give me their servant heart and attitude. To do the tasks that no one else wants to do or is willing to do, and more importantly to serve God when no one else is looking—to use my gifts for his glory, and for the overall health of the church as my sole motivation.
When that is my mentality and when that is the mentality of each of us, that is when we function as the body of Christ—when we are hitting on all cylinders. That is when there is no division among us, because we stop comparing ourselves, we stop looking for recognition, and we do things out of concern for one another, out of concern for expanding God’s Kingdom for the glory of God and not ourselves.
The church is the place where together we learn what it means to be the body of Christ for the benefit of one another and in service to the world. It is where we care for one another. And when we function as the body, we suffer with those who suffer, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
4. Be the Body (v.27)
And so that is the challenge Paul sets before us as he sums everything up in v.27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.” No one gets to sit out, no one gets to say that they are unable to serve the body of Christ. If you are a follower of Christ, you have spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you for the common good of the body of Christ.
The idea that exists in many Christian circles that only those who are paid full time by the church participate in ministry or Christian service would have shocked Paul. This message from 1 Corinthians 12 speaks boldly to rid every church of that mentality.
All Christians everywhere have gifts which they must use to contribute to not only the life of the church, but the building of the Kingdom. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. That’s not the way God intends life in the church to be. I read a commentator who put it this way, and it really hit home for me: “If only 5 percent of the Christ’s body uses its gifts, only 5 percent of the church’s work will be fulfilled.”
I went on my first mission trip in 2006—Ashley and I went together. Most of you probably remember when hurricane Katrina hit back in September of 2005, and the devastation that it brought to much of the Gulf coast. As I watched on t.v. I wanted to do something. I had just recently graduated high school, and Ashley and I joined up with a group of Presbyterians from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to go down to D’Iberville, MS.
We had never met the people we were going with, and when I got on the bus I was greatly surprised. There were 48 people, ranging in age from 14 to 79. In my naivety I sadly remember thinking to myself, what will the older people be able to do on this trip? And what will the immature 14 year olds be able to do? After all being 19 I thought I was so mature.
This mission trip in which we gutted out houses, and restored homes had a tremendous impact on my life and the way I understand the body of Christ to function. What changed me the most was not seeing the devastation, but seeing the body of Christ at work. We did not all have the same gifts and talents. So some cooked meals, some hung drywall, some did electrical work, and the list goes on and on. But we were united as the body of Christ in building God’ Kingdom for his glory. And we couldn’t have functioned without each member.
Paul believes that the Holy Spirit gives to each Christian community, each fellowship of believers, every church, all the gifts and graces it needs to be what it ought to be—and He still provides today! The church is not merely a human organization; the body of Christ is not like our human bodies that eventually fail and decay. The work of the body of Christ is the work of God’s Kingdom that will endure for all eternity.
I’m excited about God is already using each of us. But I think he wants to do more. I think he wants to pour out more gifts, and open our eyes to the gifts he has given us for the common good of our church at work in our community for God’s Kingdom and glory.