1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Last week we focused our attention on that beautiful moment when Jesus, having just been baptised by John the Baptist, comes out of the water and is praying. In that moment heaven opened and two things happened:
- The voice of God the Father declared: You are My Beloved Son; with You I am well-pleased; and
- The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove.
I hope I was successful in making the connection in all of our minds to the fact that we … who have come to faith in Jesus … also share in these blessings:
- We too are adopted into God’s Family as His Beloved children; and
- We receive the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This is where our attention is turned today, as we read Paul the Apostle’s letter to the Corinthian Church. He teaches that the Holy Spirit is given to all believers, and then he goes on to explain that all believers also receive what we call the “gifts of the Spirit”. Just as Jesus, the first Spirit-filled Man was gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit for His mission … so we are empowered and gifted by the Spirit for our mission in Jesus’ Name.
But let me not get ahead of myself. Let’s start in the text and read verse 1-3 which, as I will explain, sends us this message:
Christian, you have the Holy Spirit (v.1-3)
The Christians in Corinth, other than a tiny minority of Jewish believers, had been pagans and had been worshipping multiple gods, all of which were represented by idols. This included the official worship of Caesar by all faithful Roman citizens. When the pressure of the persecution of Christians by the Romans intensified, people were asked to show their allegiance to their idolatrous gods, by declaring “Caesar is Lord”. And if they were suspected to be Christians they had to add, “and Jesus be cursed”.
In earlier days … when Christians were persecuted by those Jewish authorities who rejected Christ … this was a strategy employed. In the book of Acts, Paul confesses to King Agrippa that before his conversion, in his days of persecuting Christians: “I often punished them in every synagogue and I forced them to blaspheme.” (Acts 26:11).
In other words he forced them to say something like: “Jesus be cursed”. This the true believer would never do, and so instead they would declare, “Jesus is Lord” … which to the Jewish authorities was blasphemy.
So the confession, “Jesus is Lord” was the defining evidence that someone had become a Christian. You didn’t just say it casually … like we might do today … because saying it held grave consequences.
Now in 1 Cor. 12:3 Paul says: “No-one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to saving faith in Jesus. It is He who invites us to come into God’s family by faith in Jesus. And when we say YES to His invitation, it is He who enters us and breathes eternal life into us.
Hear the good news! No Christian is a Christian without the Holy Spirit. If you truly believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord … and if you know in your heart that Jesus is YOUR Lord because you have committed yourself entirely to Him … YOU HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT LIVING IN YOU AND GIVING YOU SPIRITUAL LIFE FROM WITHIN! CASE CLOSED!
Then I want to ask this question and let the Bible answer it. Is the Holy Spirit given to the Christian only to give us new life / eternal life? The answer of course is NO. We find that in v.7
The Spirit is given for “the common good” (v.7)
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (v.7)
We have seen that the Holy Spirit is given to every Christian. But here we also see that every Christian also experiences what Paul calls “the manifestation of the Spirit.” “Manifestation” comes from the Latin “manifestare”, which means to make public. It means the outward effect of the Spirit … the visible and outward evidence of the Spirit’s invisible presence inside the Christian.
Some of the ways in which the Holy Spirit manifests His invisible presence have to do with the character and lifestyle of a Christian. That the Bible calls (in Galatians 5) the “fruit of the Spirit”. But here in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is concerned with deliberate Christian action that reveals the invisible presence of the Spirit in us.
In verses 4-6 he speaks about gifts, service and works. If I was going to paraphrase verses 4-6, it would be something like this:
God gives every Christian certain abilities or gifts by the Spirit … then He calls the Christian to use those gifts in acts of service to others in the name of the Lord Jesus … and as the Christian does such acts of service … God Himself works through them to minister to others.
God’s aim in giving us the Holy Spirit is never only to give us eternal and abundant spiritual life … it as always also for the Holy Spirit to flow through the individual Christian … as Paul put it … for the common good.
God wants to minister beautiful and abundant life to human individuals … God wants to minister to people’s needs and brokenness … God wants build a Christian family right here where all are built up in love and together enjoy life in all its fullness … And all the while, God wants to add more and more children to His family by faith. This is the ”common good”
Which brings us to the next point:
To accomplish this purpose God gives a variety of spiritual gifts
Spiritual gifts are defined in the Holman Bible Dictionary as, “The skills and abilities … which God gives through His Spirit … to all Christians … which equip Christians to serve God … in the Christian Community.”
Some of these gifts are fairly obviously supernatural. Others are what I would call “undercover supernatural”. What I mean is that when anyone does a miracle … like turning water into wine … it’s obviously supernatural. But when a person speaks wise counsel to someone else and it turns out to be life-changing … that is “undercover supernatural”. It is supernatural but it can be explained away as just good common sense.
Any and every skill, ability or talent that a Christian has … is both given by God and will be supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit … if we determine to use that gift in God’s service. Some of those will be abilities we had before we were saved which the Holy Spirit merely breathes new life and power into after we receive His presence. And others we will not have had before receiving the Holy Spirit … and He gives them to us to begin with … and empowers them as we use them.
Because the spiritual gifts are given for the common good … they are given for the building up of others and ministering to their needs … it stands to reason that for every one of the spiritual gifts, we should be able to identify how they meet a need in someone else.
Paul lists 9 of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. There are in fact other lists in the New Testament too. But for the sake of this exercise today, let’s confine ourselves to the ones before us in 1 Cor. 12. To understand them better let’s ask: What need does this gift meet either in individuals, in the Church or in the world?
1.The Message of Wisdom:
Wisdom is knowing what to do in a given situation. And when we don’t know what to do … which decision to make … or how to handle a given set of circumstances … we can feel utterly paralysed. At that moment we need a message of wisdom. We need God’s wisdom. And God will often send that wisdom our way through a Christian … when we sit down to speak to them and explain the situation and as the Holy Spirit moves in their heart and mind to give them the gift of wisdom … they will speak a message of wisdom to us … and suddenly everything falls into place. Our need is met … our lives are set on course … and often a whole network of our relationships in the church and in the world is vastly improved. The Gift of a Message of Wisdom.
2.The Message of Knowledge:
When we remember that Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” we can appreciate that knowing the truth is a great human need.
- Knowing the truth about God … having true knowledge of God … is so desperately needed for people to be able to walk in God’s abundance. When we just don’t understand God or God’s ways or how God wants us to live in this world, we need someone who is able to speak God’s word of truth to us … a message of true knowledge. And when we hear that message suddenly so many things fall into place in our heads and our hearts … that person blessed us with the gift of a message of knowledge.
- Sometime we also just need someone to speak a message to us that opens our eyes to see the truth about ourselves. And when we hear that message we begin to see ourselves and the world around us in a whole new light … we lights come on for us and life takes on a fresh abundance … that person blessed us with the gift of a message of knowledge.
Clearly this is not about saving faith … that initial step of trusting Jesus to wash away our sins and give us eternal life. This is about faith in the midst of everyday living in a broken world. Some people just seem to have the gift of being able to believe God for the impossible. When do we need those people … with this gift? Well we need them when we as individuals or as a community are losing heart … and beginning to despair. When you believe all hope is gone … when our backs are against the wall and we honestly can’t see a way out … we need someone who will stand in front of us and say, “I believe God can transform our situation. I know God can do a miracle here. Do not lose heart. Believe! Stay faithful! Pray! God’s got this! God will come through for us.” And when we hear them or even just see them living in the face of this adversity with faith … we are inspired to lift our eyes above the giant problem in front of us and see the Giant God who is bigger and more powerful by far! That person has blessed us with their gift of faith.
4.Gifts of healing:
Of all the spiritual gifts, I think it is easiest to see how the gift of healing meets the needs of others. We all know what it means to be in need of healing. We may have a physical need – an illness, some bodily failure that is causing us pain and brokenness. We may have an emotional need – a set of circumstances or a medical condition causing us emotional pain. We may have a cognitive need – a set of circumstances or a medical condition causing brokenness in our cognitive functioning. We all know what it feels like to need healing. In that moment when someone stands in front of us and puts their hands on our head or our shoulders, and prays with us and for us, and we … in that very moment or in the hours or days that follow … experience a restoration of health and wellness … God has healed us … and that person blessed us with our gift of healing.
Some translations have it as “miraculous powers”. The words literally mean “demonstrations of power”. When healing comes only through prayer, it is, of course, a miracle too. And for many, healing is the most common kind of miracle. Why? Well probably because it is the one we most often ask God for. But a miracle in general is when God’s supernatural power works to perform God’s supernatural purpose. If a person has the gift of miracles it means that God uses them to get things done that seem humanly impossible are even ARE humanly impossible. And sometimes those miracles are hidden in plain sight. When everyone else is pulling their hair out, saying, “It is impossible to solve the problem of hunger” … others are simply stepping forward in faith and going about the business of feeding the hungry … with resources that are so limited … but because their purpose is to meet a need that is in the heart of God for them to meet, God supernaturally enables them to get it done. So yes the miracle may be driving out a demonic spirit … or laying hands on a dead car engine and it springs to life … or praying for financial supply for a Church project and on the Amen an envelope arrives through the letter box with the exact amount needed. Yes those are miracles. But there are miracle workers in this room today … most of whom don’t even realise that in their humility God is doing things through them that are humanly impossible and therefore miraculous. When they make those things happen, they are blessing everyone around them with their gift of miracles.
Prophecy is a direct word from God. It happens when a person speaks a message that comes straight from the heart of God to one or many others. It is when someone says: “Thus says the Lord …” and it really is God’s message straight to the heart of a person. When someone walks into this church and no-one knows them … and no-one knows that they are living in fear for their life … but one of us gets up and says, “I believe that God wants to say to us today: “I love you and I am with you and I will protect you from all danger.”” That person hears that word and experiences the truth that God is speaking straight to them. That is a gift of prophecy … and it is meeting the need of someone to hear the word of God to them. Sometimes (and I wish it was every time but it’s not) a congregation member will say to a preacher, “Who told you that about me? You obviously know what I’m going through, because you were speaking straight at me today.” They were experiencing the gift of prophecy meeting their need for a word from God. And the gift of prophecy is also in operation when God wants to speak a strong word of correction to a corrupt leader or someone in power who is leading people astray. He may send a prophet to call that person out … and the need of an entire nation for a leader to repent and turn from their wicked ways can be met through the gift of prophecy.
7.Discerning of spirits:
Just as the truth sets us free, so lies enslave us. Just as we can receive God’s message that leads us to fullness of life, so we can also receive a false message that leads us down a destructive path. Just as the Holy Spirit can work wonders for good, so the devil can work supernaturally for evil. There are times when we need someone with the gift of discernment to warn us … that is not of God. It looks good, it looks fun, it feels like something life-giving but I sense darkness at work. I’m warning you in the name of the Lord, look out. The main blessing that a person with the spiritual gift of discerning spirits brings … is to warn us against the danger of falling for the devil’s deception or opening a door in our lives for the evil one to be at work. They help us to discern the presence of the wolf in sheep’s clothing … when the devil is masquerading as an angel of light in order to lead us astray.
8 & 9. Speaking in Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues:
One can only properly deal with these two gifts together.
- Tongues: When a Christian is praying and they run out of words to express their heart or thoughts to God … as so often happens to us limited human beings … they may find themselves suddenly praying “fviufbvuoivn0h0rcerlvkj298n893”. Sounds and words coming from their mouths that are nonsensical to a human listener because, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:2, “Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed no-one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.” It is for them in that moment a prayer language. The Holy Spirit has gifted and empowered them to vocally express their hearts and minds to God beyond the limitations of their brain to put their emotions or thoughts into words. It is meeting a need for themselves. That’s why Paul says again in 1 Corinthians 14:4 that “anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves”. How? Well they are built up in their relationship with God through the intimacy of perfect (Holy Spirit inspired) communication. But then Paul says, “unless someone interprets so that the Church may be edified.”
- Interpretation of Tongues: In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul teaches that one should only speak in tongues in a public meeting if someone with the gift of interpretation is present … because otherwise all that happens is that people get confused by your nonsensical words. In fact he also says, if you speak in tongues in Church, pray that you will be able to interpret the tongue yourself (v.13). So there’s nothing wrong with that practice. But someone needs to be able to interpret into the common language … in our case English. And when someone interprets it releases for all of us a most beautiful revelation of pure intimacy with God … and we are all built up in our walk with the Lord.
It’s been a long teaching today. I hope it’s been helpful. But mostly I hope that it has brought to all of us a determination to use our skills, talents and abilities in the Church and in the world so that God the Holy Spirit can work powerfully through us to bring abundant life, wholeness and wellness to our Church, our Families and our World.