When a tiny baby is brought into the room, people gather around to look at God’s new reveal; a beautiful baby girl. Sounds of pleased parents and grandparents give way to words like: “You know, she has your nose!” or “Look at that hair! She is definitely from your side of the family!” We have all heard comments like these. The fact is, we DO get many of our physical features from our parents and our genetic lines dictate much about everything from the shape of our little toe to the girth of our midriff. Obviously there are lifestyle factors, but let’s face it: Some of us were never going to be professional basketball players with more of our inborn “Sumo wrestler” build! In the end, we can all admit that some of our look is determined by how we care for our body, but much was determined by how God knit together the genetic chemicals of our biological parents. I do not appear to be Chinese, and there is a genetic reason for that fact. No matter how often I eat Chinese food, I will still not look like someone born of Chinese parents.
Think about someone you may know who was adopted by a family, and recognized early in life they didn’t look like the rest of the family they held dear growing up. That was true in my family. At a certain age, an adopted child may become somewhat curious about what their biological ancestors looked like, and a need to “connect” with them may emerge within them. Though they are content in most ways living in the family from which they emerged from childhood into adulthood, it is possible they will feel the need to feel attached to the natural family that brought them into the world. For some, they report a true emotional struggle. On the other hand, adopted children can feel special in a certain way, because they were born into one family and specifically chosen by another. If they focus on the sense of loss from the departure of their first family, they may experience pain. If they focus on the choice of their adoptive family, they may find deep encouragement. In a strange way, those same truths apply to people who hear the Gospel and believe, but recognize their ancestors didn’t know or respond to that message. Think about it.
In the first century, when people made a choice for the Gospel in Corinth and throughout the Roman world of the time of Paul, they found Jesus and celebrated a wonderful new life as believers have been doing since the Gospel was first made known. At the same time, the new believer faced the truth about a terrible loss. The early Christians at Corinth faced a deep and significant personal emotional struggle because when they came to Christ, they faced a loss some of us may never have thought about. It is at the heart of every missionary’s presentation to a first generation culture when presenting Christ. They personally gained new life, but at the same time they lost hope for the spiritual destiny of many of their natural ancestors. In Spiritual terms, they lost their natural family and found their adoptive one – something that is very hard on people who care deeply about their ancestry.
We must remember that Romans revered their dead ancestors. They lit candles daily for them, and believed their “pietos” (doing the right thing) included upholding the honor of all the family – both living and dead. As a Roman came to Christ, it became painfully clear that his family members were lost. A daily routine that once brought strength now brought an enormous sting of pain to them. They could easily feel they “lost” part of their family in joining the body of Christ. As a result, God revealed truths that would help them connect to the body in a more full way, and make a difference in the lives of people that would fill up the empty holes left in their heart. God gave them something to help soften and replace that some of the feeling of that loss; His Spirit was imparted to help them feel a part of the family of God through Jesus. In a sense, He gave them His Holy Spirit to connect their identities – and He supplied gifts to them, to help the body flourish and grow. God’s Spirit offered believers of long ago a new family, a new trail of ancestors – though they were not genetic. Though we don’t revere our ancestors in the same way, God continues to do the same for us. The Spirit acts both as our “family resemblance” between believers, and our “enabling vehicle” to energize in us abilities to contribute to building up the whole family. Let’s say it this way:
Key Principle: God gave every follower of Jesus enabling gifts to serve Him and to confirm in them their new family identity as part of our new inheritance in His family.
Our lesson today will remind us of an incredible fact. When we came to Jesus, we got more than salvation from sin and eternity in Heaven. We were adopted into a new family and received a whole new family identity and inheritance. We gained a connection to God’s Spirit that bonded us to the family. God imparted to believers the indwelling of His own Spirit with truly helped with identity as it offered a special sense of family in the spiritual adoption process. The Spirit’s coming into the life of a believer also had another very practical side in the accompanying gifts that endowed the body with abilities to perform and function in God’s power. The Spirit’s presence helped with identity, while the enabling powers or “gifts of the Spirit” assisted in making the work assigned by God for us possible.
At the same time, the work of the Spirit, particularly as it related to spiritual gifts left the church with some confusion – it appears that at least some of the Corinthian church wasn’t certain how these gifts operated to empower the body of Christ. There were apparently at least five specific misunderstandings that arose in the public services at the Corinthian congregation that gave rise to a question they wrote to Paul. We have only his response, not their question.
Reading it carefully, here are truths that attacked the problems they had:
1. Paul wanted believers to know that God was speaking and engaging them (12:1-2).
2. The Apostle wanted to offer the people a few tools to discern truth from error (12:3).
3. Paul wanted them to recognize the uniqueness of each believer (cp. 12:4-7).
4. He wanted the church to recognize there were no spare part Christians – all were essential (12:8-11).
5. Paul wanted to address the sense of over-importance in some (12:12-31).
Since their disciple spent time with the believers at Corinth correcting these five errors, and God preserved the record – they are likely something we should take some time to examine as well. Let’s take a few minutes and replay what he told them, and make sure we aren’t nurturing the same errors today!
Problem One: Recognizing God speaks (12:1-2)
The first generation of believers out of the pagan did not all know that God didn’t finish His work with them at redemption – He desired to continue to speak and direct followers fo Jesus throughout their lives. As some come to Jesus today from a Theistic Evolution, where God started the world but then stepped back – we may need to teach this anew. In the end, every believer must recognize that God is active in daily life. The issue isn’t whether God withdraws from man, but whether man will seek and follow God. Our Father is not a passive bystander, but desires to give us the prize of sensing His work in us as He walks through the day beside us and inside us.
Paul addressed the issue this way:
1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.
In effect, Paul said, “Thank you for writing to me about confusion of direction in hearing from God. It is obvious to me that in your former life, you used to be led by the hand of priests toward “gods” that didn’t have anything to say. That isn’t the truth of your situation now.” (12:1-2). It is worth noting by the opening comment of Paul that spiritual gifts seem easily confusing to new believers. The church needed the Spirit’s enabling with their family identity, but they also needed more instruction on the work of the Spirit in regard to the functions.
Let’s face it: Corinth wasn’t the only group of believers who ever struggled with the issue of hearing from God. Every believer has to learn that God wants to commune with him or her daily and intimately. There is no part of life in which God desires to opt out. In fact, that is what God wants NOW as much as in the earlier centuries. Yet, I cannot believe there has ever been a time when that was harder to do than it appears to be today. For one thing, error has found a pocket sized “ready to access” compendium on the internet. People can read a Bible passage, and then look below any God-fearing writer’s article to find three other conveniently “suggested for you” articles that negate everything they could have ever learned from the good article. It is part of the noise of our age.
God wants to lead and teach believers, and He does it in a variety of ways. Sadly, the enemy works to confuse the clear and proper instruction with noise that sounds similar, but contains striking differences. Paul presented clearly the difference between right and wrong teaching – and much of that difference could be spotted in clarity of the goal of it. He noted the goal of Godly instruction should always follow the same pattern expressed to Timothy in the first letter…
1 Timothy 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Men and women of God must learn to recognize that right teaching will have this goal: We must seek to produce people who live a life of unselfish actions with pure motives, moral clarity and an authentic biblical world view.
• If we don’t give opportunity to serve in the body of Christ and in the community, we will become unbalanced theoretical Christians – and these invariably become critical and opinionated slothful believers.
• If we don’t keep proper light on MOTIVATION, we can get a room of people who come to find mates, gain customers, or look for someone to dump their responsibilities upon – but we aren’t making disciples of Jesus with them.
• If we don’t emphasize moral clarity, we will gather rooms full of people who have a SUNDAY GOD that doesn’t affect their MONDAY CHOICES.
• If we hobby-horse on a favorite subject and don’t teach the whole Word of God – our world view will be a warped one that our little group all believes – in spite of the fact that it doesn’t reflect what God’s Word truly teaches. We have to exercise a variety of muscles for balanced growth in our training.
Let’s say it this way: believers need to recognize that God is speaking, and waiting for us to listen.
Problem Two: “Discerning Truth” – Knowing what came from God (12:3)
Knowing that God still speaks is essential, but knowing how to pick out His voice of truth over the cacophony of noise is essential. Paul focused them on how to know with these words:
12:3 Therefore I want you to know 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.
Many people were confused by religious sounding talk that didn’t representative God’s true Word. You may rightly ask: “How can you tell which words are true?” Paul offered two specifics:
First, if they speak in a way that demeans in any way the Person of Jesus, or warns that He is not the One Who alone can lead you to the Father, mark that as error. Christians believe Jesus is the unique and Eternal Son of God who existed with the Father and Spirit at Creation. He is One with the Father, and He said that exact thing when He came to earth.
Second, Paul wrote, if any man or woman portrays to be from God, but their teaching doesn’t emphasize and focus on the Mastery of Jesus over every areas of our life choices, back away from that teacher. God’s grace is a vital concept and is therefore very important to share. God’s mercy is wonderful, and we stand in need of it daily. Yet, if a teacher pushes you in any direction but that of surrendering to Jesus and following Him, they are pushing you to go in the wrong direction in life.
The truth is that Jesus is Lord of the entire universe, for the Father has crowned Him and endued Him with all authority. The truth is that first truth gives Him claim over every choice of my life – what I eat and drink, where I go, who I spend time with and what my life purposes become. Teaching that emphasizes these realities leads us toward God’s Word; while teaching that inadvertently detracts from either the glory of the Son of God or the mastery of the Master weakens believers and distracts truth seekers.
Only a believer would teach you to turn everything over to Jesus. Likewise, an unbeliever will invariably teach something less concerning the position and Person of Christ in your life.
To make the point clearer, let me suggest that ask som questions that will make things clearer if you are not sure. First, you may ask the first question: “Does the teaching cause me to live out unselfish actions from pure motives?” We want deliberately to produce WORKING CHRISTIANS, not just theoretical theologians. The world has seen too many who can postulate and theologize, and too few who are making an impact.
The Gospel isn’t just about the salvation WE GET; it is about the changed life WE HAVE, and the loving acts WE DO because of the changes HE MAKES! In an effort to steer people away from a “works salvation”, we sometimes forget that the TRUTH IS SUPPOSED TO CHANGE OUR WORKS!
Perhaps you will want to ask a second question: (When you engage Bible instruction) “Did the instruction appear to focus on producing disciples that grasp MORAL CLARITY?” Proper instruction of God’s Word must unapologetically define moral boundaries by what the Bible teaches – not what the crowd wanted His Word to say.
Perhaps even a third question should also be applied: “Is the goal of the instruction to produce believers with a biblical world view?” The term “sincere faith” means a straightforward look at what God says is true (1:5).
Don’t forget: Without an eye on the proper goals of our instruction – we will spend our energies on the WRONG GOALS.
Problem Three: “One Size Fits All” – Lacking of appreciation of the variety of ways God works through people
Paul continued as he addressed yet a third problem Paul dealt with also inflicts each gathering of believers of every age: Some cannot see the truth that God leads each of us in different ways according to our specific call and by the operation of our spiritual gifts. We need to keep in mind that we are all very different people. Paul explained that we won’t all agree on every priority even if we are all following God fully:
1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
God is not divided in His purposes, but complex in approach. He has one common goal toward which He is working all things, but that doesn’t mean we are all walking lock step in rows without a variety of approaches to life and ministry. Why? The simplest reason is because God made each of us differently. Add to that, at salvation he gifted us distinctly. We share a common goal to honor and exalt Jesus, but have differing calls to our specific roles in that endeavor, and see the goal through the eyes of our own gifts of the Spirit.
Paul made clear there were different kinds of gifts, services to perform for the Kingdom, and operations to fulfill God’s directives. He also noted that none of those in any way came from a “variety of gods”. Since Romans had gods for every practical function and operation of life, that was a point on which he wanted specific clarity. The God of Abraham is One, unified and indivisible. God is behind every unique operation that leads people to know, love and surrender their lives to Him. He also noted the purpose God has for gifting us, despite our variety and uniqueness – is the common good of the body of Christ.
You and I didn’t receive gifts to use on ourselves or for our own fame, etc. If you are a teacher – that gift wasn’t given to you to make you important, but to help you serve God by teaching well under the Spirit’s daily guidance. If you are person with insight and wisdom, you weren’t given that so you could judge the rest of us – but that you could warn us of danger before it arrives and gently prepare us to recognize truth from God. Look back in the Word: When God granted some a particular healing gift, it wasn’t to make them the center of attention!
The central issue of Paul’s words seemed to be the church had trouble accepting that not everyone felt called the same way, and did things the same way. Believers can easily get the impression the way THEY see things is the way everyone should see things in every respect. Though the truth should bind us together and that truth is found in God’s Word, our various gifts will insure that we approach problems differently. We will ask different questions of a situation that arises, because we have different experiences in our past and we see life through our own unique God-granted giftedness.
Problem Four: Spare Parts – the notion some gifts were less important
A fourth problem can be identified in the next few verses of the text:
1 Corinthians 12:8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Some in the church were apparently arguing about whether some unique manifestations in the lives of the believers were gifts of God, or mere expressions of differing personalities. They likely felt that some of the “so-called gifts” were unnecessary for the body. They were probably saying, “You know, Pastor, that stuff isn’t important! What we need here in Corinth is more of…” (cp. 12:8-11).
This is much like the person who believes the service each Sunday should be mostly singing and testimony time, with a few minutes of preaching and teaching – sitting across from the person who calls all the musical worship “the preliminaries” for the preaching. Though we all need some elements of the same healthy diet, we don’t all encounter God with the same force in the same way. In less mature believers, they can conclude that only their way truly matters, while the rest is not very important.
It is hard to spot it in the English, but the Greek text makes clear that Paul’s list actually includes three sub-categories of gift “types.” Let me explain: In Greek, the language in which the text was first composed, there are two ways to write to word “another.” The first is using the word “allos” or “another of the same kind.” The second word is “heteros” which means “another of a different kind. In the text, the term “another” is sometimes one, and other times the other word. The text reads this way:
“To one KIND there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another of the same kind a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…
9 to another of a different kind faith by the same Spirit, to another of the same kind gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another of the same kind miraculous powers, to another of the same kind prophecy, to another of the same kind distinguishing between spirits,
to another of a third kind speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another of the same kind the interpretation of tongues.
In other words, Paul delineated three “kinds” of gifts in the lest of those he indicated in this text. The first type seems to be directions of God in wisdom and knowledge. The second type appears to be related more to extraordinary discernment and intense displays of God’s power. The third related to revelation of truth.
The point of the section was this: Every gift is important, even though they are grouped differently and operate with distinction.
Believers need to be careful not to see what they deem as important in an unbalanced way. We are gifted uniquely and our path to Christ came from many different directions! Not all men came to Christ from the same place. Some have a conviction, so deep, intense and real to us, yet it is NOT God’s call to all men everywhere. Our understanding of one another should be tempered by patiently spotting “where the other guy came from”. This isn’t pulpit pablum; it is terribly important.
Christians need to hear each other as we share our testimony stories to allow us to filter extremities in each other patiently. A man who came from a violent home may be much more sensitive to the violence in a film well accepted by other believers. A woman who grew up in a home with alcoholic parents may have no desire to be tolerant of another believer who will have wine with a meal. A man who came from an occult background may rage against anyone who would let their children eat from a candy bowl at Halloween… these are all perfectly understandable. In order for a body to grow, we must learn to listen to each other and hear the stories that helped the formation of people – because God’s work in them is individualized. He wants to grow all of us, but He works with us as individuals.
A patient church is a God honoring church, and that is a place where people will allow others to see things differently because they are wired differently.
I am not talking about the fundamentals of the Word, but rather issues impacted by gifting and personal history. Not only that, but we need to be learning to pull back from becoming harsh in our attempts to get everyone to “grow up” at the same rate. Patient instruction is the key to moving people from being “unaware” to allow the Spirit to use their Bible education to move them to obedience. Not everyone who is confused or even expresses the wrong opinion is evil – they may simply need loving guidance that will allow the Spirit to correct them.
Problem Five: Over-importance – Feeling too special (12:12-31)
The final problem is explained in the balance of the chapter. From what Paul wrote, let me pick out a few words:
1 Corinthians 12:12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. … 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, …. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.…
Opposite the side of the coin from those who saw some gift manifestations as “spare parts”, there were also some who got so excited about the sensation of the flow of the Spirit using them, they became convinced that their gift was the key to everything in the Word and the world. Some of us may believe the more of “our gift” that is deployed by the Spirit, the better the likelihood the place we minister will “break open for God and take off in profound ministry”! (cp. 12:12-20).
I remember a few years ago I was asked to speak to a conference about the chief priority of our church movement. Because of my “bend” and specific gifts, I emphasized discipleship and instruction. Satisfied that I hit the main need – that of training leadership for the future – I sat down. The next man got up and spoke on the need for prayer – and I could see that I agreed with HIM more than I agreed with ME.
I was answering a question based on my gifts, and he was answering it based on a deep walk with God. It is easy for all of us to answer questions of priority from a place of gifts and personality.
Paul broke the problem down this way:
First, he noted that we are all a unique and distinct package of God’s enabling gifts, but our distinctions are not bigger than our purpose together (12:12-20). The point of gift use was never to be the exaltation of any one gift or gift holder, but for the body to work together well for His purposes and His glory. He made the point that:
• The body functions to support ONE LIFE (12:12).
• Entry to the ONE body (in justification) made all other distinctions of less importance as it regards salvation (12:13). No one is MORE SAVED than the rest of the body.
• No ONE gift or holder should see his or her value as ANYTHING apart from the whole (12:14).
• No PART should over or undervalue itself (12:15-17).
• God arranged the parts and God gifts according to His master plan (12:18).
• We all NEED each other to function properly (12:19-20).
Second, Paul pressed them to respect the value of their differences and not simply be “wowed” by some who have more visible gifts (12:21-24). The most critical members of the body are not the most easily recognized parts, but the parts that keep the body alive and well. The honor of the part is GOD’S to ascribe – not ours!
Third, he urged them to see and function as though their care for another was a greater priority than their complete understanding of one another (12:25-26).
1 Corinthians 12: 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
The body must focus on the way it can pull its energies to the benefit of all and the progress of the whole goal. Each believer must deliberately fight the notion that others are not held back by their disobedience and stubbornness. When I refuse to yield to God – others in the body suffer. When I hide sin, I wound the body. I set back the team when I don’t discipline my body and work out….
Here is the truth: Each of us plays a specific type of role for God, yet these roles vary widely. We cannot anticipate that others will naturally understand our role, or see its significance (12:27-30).
1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
We should answer more of our conflicts by understanding that we are all gifted uniquely, and may struggle to see things through the eyes of others who are gifted differently. Evangelists will believe the only thing a Christian should do is share Christ. Teachers will worry about what people are learning and feel that evangelists are far too focused on a “conversion” moment, and not on the necessary equipping. Administrators will worry about sustainability of ministry in funding, and staying above any suspicion in accounting. All have their place, but they will pull in different directions.
Remember that God will (if asked) balance out our group with the right combination of gifts if the group is obediently using those He gave and find a lack among them (12:31). That is why he wrote:
12: 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
Rather than teach people to be gifted in an area they are not, we should seek God to supply them, while covering the gaps. Churches that don’t encourage people to exercise their gifts, don’t know what they need, and don’t seek God for what they need. Slowly, they dry up by putting too much on a few and allowing most to coast doing nothing…
The modern church has spent too long turning God’s enabling power into a fight over how to use gifts. The whole topic of spiritual gifts has been a battleground for many years, going back to the first century church at Corinth. Some of the tension results from an overemphasis on certain gifts; other tensions come because we like to pick fights with those who are wired differently than we are.
In the next few lessons, the principles should clear up much of the fog and allow us to confidently operate within the Word. Our problem has not so much been people MISUSING gifts, and UNDER USING gifts. Let me end this week’s installment simply by asking – Do you know what your gifts are? Are you using them? Is the Body of Christ being built up by them?
Today, we recall the gifts of God to make us into one family, and to enable us to do the work God gave us. God has been good!
God gave every follower of Jesus enabling gifts to serve Him and to confirm in them their new family identity as part of our new inheritance in His family.
The sad truth is that many try to find contentment apart from the work of God’s Spirit within. They search for “more” and believe that will make them happy. It won’t! There is much evidence that left to himself without boundaries, men will not be content:
Howard Hughes was a billionaire when that word applied to almost no one. He wanted more so he went to Hollywood and became a film maker and star. He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid large sums to indulge every sensual urge. He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U.S. presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. Yet, this man ended his life as a pitiful sight. He lived in darkness, his arms covered with needle marks from drug addition, his finger nails were inches long and curled up in a grotesque way, his teeth were black and rotten. His hair to his waist, long beard. He lived like a hermit. He wore rubber gloves all the time and wouldn’t leave his apartment. He died weighing 95 pounds as a billionaire junkie.
Left to himself, Hughes destroyed himself. That is a graphic but accurate picture of men. God knows us so well, He doesn’t ask us to figure out a way to tough out life without Him. Do you need Him?