If you are a lover of music you know that for music to be good, all the parts of the musical piece need to fit together. In a vocal selection the singers all have to sing the correct notes at the right time or the harmony will be painful. In an instrumental piece the instruments must play the correct notes at the right time or the music will sound discordant or harsh. This is why it is hard to listen to someone who is just learning to play an instrument. They hit as many wrong notes as right notes. Much of the time it is more noise than music.
I was asked one time at the last minute to fill in playing the bells for a performance at the clubhouse. I could play the music when red and blue circles were drawn on the page that showed me which hand to ring and when. The music for the performance didn’t have those circles! As I recall, the choir played “Amazing Grace”. Just a few measures into the song, I was lost. I knew I had part of the melody line so my part was important. I had a choice. I could take a chance on ringing the wrong note (which would be harsh and painful) or I could simply not play (leaving a hole in parts of the song). I chose to leave the hole and the Bell Choir chose never to ask me to play again!
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul will show us that the church is much like a piece of music. The gospel message is like a brilliant musical score. When played correctly it is incomparably beautiful. However, to play it correctly the various members of the church need to play their various parts in harmony.
If I can push the analogy just a little further, in the first several chapters of the letter the Apostle Paul confronted the wrong notes or the harsh tones of discord as he addressed conflicts in the church. In chapters 12-14 Paul talks about spiritual gifts. In these chapters he addresses the problem of holes or missing notes in the music of the church.
AN IMPORTANT CAUTION
Paul begins his new subject on spiritual gifts by going in an unexpected direction. He writes in verses 2-3,
You know that when you were pagans, 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.
These words raise a question: What does this have to do with spiritual gifts? It is apparent that these words must relate to the subject in some way. There are a number of conjectures but I think the explanation that makes the most sense to me is that in the pagan religions in which they used to participate, evil spirits used to speak through some of the followers in ecstatic or so-called inspired speech. These people denied Christ but people believed they spoke from God. If that is the case, Paul wants to warn the church in Corinth.
If our understanding is correct, there are a couple of warnings that we get from this text. First, it is possible to counterfeit the gifts of the Spirit. In other words, just because someone gives some kind of ecstatic utterance, says “the Lord told me”, or is gifted leader, doesn’t necessarily mean they are being led by the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 8 we are told the story about Simon the Sorcerer. He was a magician who had amazed all the people leading them to believe he had divine power. However, Simon was not doing these things by the Spirit of God. He was doing these things through demonic power. He was converted under the ministry of Philip. In Matthew 7 Jesus warned us that some will come before him on the last day and point to the miracles they performed, the prophecies they spoke or the demons they cast out but the Lord will say, “I never knew you.” Throughout the Bible we are told that we need to be discerning. The opposite of discernment is gullibility.
Second, we need to recognize that there is always the temptation to seek the experience rather than the Lord Himself. Back to the story of Simon in Acts 8, when he saw the work of the Holy Spirit at the hands of Philip, Peter and John, he asked if he could buy that power! Simon viewed these things as if they were a magic trick you could purchase in a store. Simon wanted to be a celebrity once again. He wanted people to think he was spiritual and had come from God. He was missing the point.
It is so tempting to want to do the great things that others do that we try to duplicate the experience without seeking the Lord and without asking, “Is this what God wants for me?”
Paul warned the Corinthians that the test we need to apply to any teacher or anyone doing great things is this: How do they view Jesus? Do they dismiss Him or embrace Him? Do they see him as merely a good man or do they bow before Him as the Lord of life? When they say, “Jesus is Lord” do they mean it or are they merely mouthing the words? Basically, Paul says that if you are wrong about Jesus, you are a false teacher.
Let me give you an example from contemporary life. Oprah Winfrey is a media icon. Millions of people watch her show. I think it is fair to say that Oprah is concerned about changing the world. We can say she is making an impact through the things she does. However, even though Oprah talks about God and doing what is right, she also proclaims that Jesus is not God and He cannot be the only way to Heaven. She believes God is whatever we think He is inside of us! She denies any notion of sin and so the idea of a Savior is unnecessary. She rejects the Bible as God’s revelation to us and scorns and sneers at Bible doctrine. She says we must be guided by our inner consciousness (whatever that means). Oprah sounds good and looks good but is really a false prophet and, according to Paul is NOT speaking by the Spirit of God.
This kind of thing is going on all around us. Unfortunately, many gullible people embrace these beliefs because they are espoused by someone who is famous who appears to be doing good things. Though it is tempting to point to the things people do and conclude, “they must be close to God”, it is foolish to do so. Only those who follow Christ are leading us in the right direction.
PRINCIPLES FOR WORKING IN HARMONY
With this understanding in mind Paul turns to teaching about the proper place of spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a free and undeserved ability given to us by the Holy Spirit for use in building up God’s Kingdom. God gives us each a role to play in His Kingdom and He equips us with the resources we need to fulfill that role.
Our spiritual gifts often involve the things we are naturally good at. However, they are not the same as our natural abilities. A spiritual gift is a work of God’s Spirit that enables us to do His work in a way we could not do before.
We can discern several important lessons about spiritual gifts from our text.
We aren’t meant to be good at the same thing (v.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.
There are two words that jump out in these verses: “different” and “same”. There are different experiences, gifts, ministries and areas of service, but God is the One who is behind them all.
The list of gifts that Paul gives us was never meant to be exhaustive. I make lists all the time because it helps me to see something more clearly if I can grasp the implications of a certain truth. However, when I make my lists I do not intend or imagine to be giving every application of the truth. I believe Paul was doing the same thing, he was listing some of the ways God’s Spirit might equip a person. The list is not exhaustive which is why the lists of spiritual gifts given in other parts of the Bible are not the same. If Paul were making his list of gifts today he might include: musical performance, systems administration, business management, worship leadership, counselor, or even health care worker.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that no one person was meant to have all the gifts. God is not looking for a “one man band”. He is not seeking celebrity Christians. He has designed us to need each other and to work together as one harmonious community of faith.
God has given us different passions and different gifts so we could do the job that needed to be done. He has created Sopranos, altos, tenors and basses so that they can harmonize together. He has created others to be good listeners. The point is that we all have a different job and ministry from the Lord. We serve Him in unique ways.
Practically this means two things. First, it means we must realize that not everyone will be passionate about the same things you are passionate about. If God has called you to a certain ministry it may be hard for you to understand why everyone else is not as committed as you are to these things. It is tempting to think that they are less spiritual because they are not like you (stop and think about the arrogance of such thinking). In truth, they may simply be called to a different role in the church.
Second, it is also wrong to expect one person to be equipped to do everything. One of the problems we have in the community of faith is our tendency to take someone who is willing and eager to help and then overload them with responsibility. These people often work until they are exhausted and then sometimes leave the church feeling like a failure or feeling like they have been abused. No one is expected (nor desired) to do everything (not even Pastors!)
God designed us to be participants rather than spectators (7)
In verse 7 we are told that God has given to each one a manifestation of the Spirit. God has given to every believer a way for them to serve the Lord. God wants us to be participants rather than spectators. He wants us to walk with Him and serve Him rather than sitting back to watch, cheer and criticize others.
In the body of Christ everyone has a role to play. It’s like a baseball team. Players need to understand and function in the role that they have been given. You have the starting lineup which is expected to consistently play at a high caliber. The big hitters are expected to drive in runs. The Starting pitchers are expected to throw strikes. But even if these guys do their jobs they won’t win many games if the pinch hitters and relief pitchers don’t do their jobs. Everyone has a role to play on a pro team.
In the church God desires that we all serve Him in the ways that we have been equipped to serve. YOU are significant and unique. God has a particular job that He wants you to do.
Gifts are meant to Build Up the Body (7)
Paul told the Corinthians that each one was given a gift “for the common good.” Spiritual gifts are not designed to advance our personal agendas. These gifts are supposed to enrich and build up the church and those around us. God gives us abilities that we can use to reach out to the world and also to encourage and support each other. God does not give us gifts to stroke our own egos.
I think it is safe to say that when the issue of spiritual gifts divides a church it indicates something is wrong. People are either: uninformed, self-absorbed, or misusing the gifts.
Gifts are not an Indicator of our Spiritual Significance (11)
After listing some of the gifts Paul adds that they are all given by the Spirit and “he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” Notice that we do not choose the gift(s) we receive. It is just like we don’t choose whether we will be tall or short or Caucasian, Asian or African American. God gives us the abilities that He has designed for our use and the role that He has assigned to us.
There is a tendency in the Christian community to develop a “pecking order”. Some believe clergy are more “spiritual” than the “common folk”. There is a “pecking order that develops among clergy” based on size of the congregation, the particular church that is served or the accolades that have been received.
This same pecking order creeps into those in the pews. Those who are on boards or committees are often seen as more important than those who work with youth or who man the Nursery. Those who teach Sunday School are often thought to be more significant than those who work in the kitchen.
Those people who have a sense of superiority because of their experience or giftedness have missed the point altogether. Imagine an artist doing a painting. Suppose when the painting is finished the red pigment concludes that it is more significant because it is the most used color in the painting. Such thinking would be foolishness (beyond thinking paint can talk). Where would the red be without the shadows made by the touches of black or the highlights of blue and white? Where would the red be without the various shades of red that are created by adding other colors who are hidden yet necessary? A masterpiece is a blending of colors with each color having an important role to play.
Let’s take this a little further. The red pigment has no great significance until it is placed on the canvas by the artist. It is the artistic placement that makes the red pigment significant. In the same way, bragging about our role in the body of Christ is just as foolish. We serve the Creator. Any glory should go to Him.
We are only beginning our study of spiritual gifts. Next week we will talk more about how to find what it is that God has equipped you to do. Today we want to lay a firm foundation. You may not feel that you have a big part but you do have an essential part. When the orchestra plays, the piccolo and the cymbals don’t play very often . . . but when they do play they, add depth and color to the musical piece.
It is important that you realize that God wants you to participate rather than merely observe. If we are going to be faithful as a church family it will require that everyone does their part. Our job is not to make a name for ourselves or even for the Union Church of La Harpe. Our job is to glorify the Lord in what we do.
I want to leave you with a challenge for this week. Look at your life. Ask yourself: what can I do to honor and serve the Lord. Some of you will say you don’t think you have a spiritual gift. You don’t see any “great way” that you can serve.
You may say you can’t do anything but pray! Please listen to what you are saying. “All you can do” is raise up those who are lost before the Lord. “All you can do” is pray for God to infuse the leaders of the church with guidance, strength, and wisdom. “All you can do” is pray a wall of defense against temptation around your family, friends, and other church members. This so called “little thing” that is so often overlooked in the world . . . is the very thing that brings the power of God into lives, churches, and the eternal destiny of others! This is no little thing.
Someone else may say, “all I can do” is invite my friends to church and tell them what I have learned. Wow! Do you think it is a little thing to point others to the opportunity to be forgiven, find new life and live forever?
Perhaps you say, “All I can do” is to be friendly to visitors who come into the church. Friend, who knows what seeds you are planting? Your friendly greeting may be the very thing that leads a person to sense the warmth of God’s love. Who knows what God is doing through your faithfulness?
Maybe “all you can do” is send people a note of encouragement. Hmm, seems to me that letting people know they are loved and cared for is no little thing.
These are all significant works of God. You can make an enormous difference in the world if you would stop mourning over what you can’t do . . . do what you can do!
Some of you more can do more visible things. You can serve in a worship band, you can sing special music, you can lead ministries, you can teach classes, and you can go into areas where the gospel is not known and share the truth; perhaps you can give large sums of money to make big things possible. Some of you can head up ministries. Some may be able to develop video of our worship so we can make these available on the web. You may have construction or artistic gifts that could create something I am unable to even imagine.
I hope the point is clear. We all have a role to play in the work of God. Each role is significant and important in different ways. We are part of His orchestra of grace. We have an amazing message of hope and life to give to the world. If everyone plays their part, the message of his grace will sound with a harmony that will touch others deeply and change them forever.