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Spiritual Gifts

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
October 30, 2022 7:00 pm

Spiritual Gifts

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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October 30, 2022 7:00 pm

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We're gonna read an extensive passage in the Word of God this morning, so I'm gonna let you remain seated just so you can concentrate better. But if you would please turn with me this morning to 1 Corinthians chapter 12 in our evening services. Last several months we've been making our way through Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth, a letter in which he's been addressing various issues pertaining to life in the church. And we come now to the issue of spiritual gifts and their function and purpose in the life of the body of Christ.

Let's see what God has to say to us this morning. 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says Jesus is accursed. And no one can say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of service but the same Lord.

And there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit. To another faith by the same Spirit. To another gifts of healing by the one Spirit.

To another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as He wills. For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body though many are one body, so it is with Christ.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less part of the body. And if the ear should say, because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?

If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable, we bestow the greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it, and God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues, are all apostles, are all prophets, are all teachers, do all work miracles, do all possess gifts of healing, do all speak with tongues, do all interpret, but earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. Let's pray. Father, thank you for the word before us this morning. Please illuminate these truths by the power of your Holy Spirit in us that we might understand and believe and obey your instruction to us. Lord, we desire to be a church that you intend us to be, but we also recognize that we don't desire that nearly enough, so we ask that you would take your word now and transform us by it.

I pray in Jesus' name, amen. Well, we've seen multiple times now that the Corinthian church of the first century was captivated by worldly wisdom and sophistication. They loved making a splash, and so they tended to evaluate people and ministries by all the wrong standards. They treasured power and strength and the appearance of wisdom. They longed for clout and influence and impressiveness. And Paul had to repeatedly remind them that God didn't need their wisdom.

God did not call them to himself because he lacked influence or power. He saved them, not so that they could brag to the world about how wonderful they were, but so that they could boast of God's incredible grace and mercy. Now, perhaps we don't like to hear it, but we're often, like the Corinthians, in that our tendency is ever to make much of ourselves and of our talents and of our intelligence and of our discernment and of our virtue. We are prone to twist the grace of a merciful God into grounds for boasting and self-congratulation.

We all have that tendency as sinners. And perhaps this love of self is nowhere more obvious than in the subtle way that we view and use our spiritual gifts. We want our usefulness to the church to be noticed and praised. Like the Corinthians, we often want to make a splash. We want to impress.

We want to be the hero. And after all, aren't we supposed to use our spiritual gifts? Paul is going to say, no Corinth, no Grace Church. You weren't saved and entrusted with spiritual gifts so that you could go around drawing attention to yourself. And when you think that way and behave that way, you of all people who should be a unified symphony orchestra making beautiful music to the Lord are just acting like a bunch of toddlers in the kitchen banging on pots and pans.

Self-centered pride has reduced your music to the sound of a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Paul is going to spend three chapters then correcting this self-focus, specifically regarding spiritual gifts. What is the purpose and the use of the gifts we've been given by the Holy Spirit? What are some improper ways that we tend to use these gifts? These are the questions that Paul will address.

So let's jump right in. The first lesson we learned regarding spiritual gifts is that we cannot take credit for our giftedness because anything in us that is of spiritual value is from God. We see this in the first three verses. Paul begins by saying, now concerning spiritual.

And that's all he says. The word gifts is not in the Greek in verse one. And so translators have had to do some interpretive work by supplying a noun to go with this adjective, spiritual. Now later on, Paul will use the word gifts, and so the context would suggest that spiritual gifts is what Paul has in mind.

But his starting place is more broad than just spiritual gifts. He seems to be saying, now concerning the spiritualness of something, the spirituality of something, or concerning the measure of the Holy Spirit's involvement in something, I don't want you to be uninformed. This opening verse implies that Corinth, as they did in so many other areas of their Christian life, were measuring and evaluating the Holy Spirit's involvement by all the wrong criteria. For one thing, as we will see, they were exalting the gift of speaking in tongues above other gifts. As if that gift, maybe because of their love of eloquence, was somehow superior to the other gifts, and somehow demonstrated an extra measure of the Holy Spirit. We see that same thought process today in the Charismatic movement. The telltale sign of a true movement of God's Spirit, according to many Charismatic Christians, is often some sort of miraculous sensational demonstration of emotion, or language, or bodily movement that has no rational explanation. Paul is saying, you think you know what constitutes a genuine manifestation of the Spirit, but you're displaying a blatant ignorance of the way the Holy Spirit really does manifest himself in the church. It's not according to man's wisdom or sophistication.

It's not according to the emotions and whims of the heart. The measure of the Holy Spirit's involvement in something has much more to do with the degree to which Christ is exalted than it does with how impressive or extraordinary something is. Notice Paul's rationale in verses two and three. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to mute idols. Paul is saying that before the Corinthians knew Christ, they worshiped idols left to ourselves.

We move in the opposite direction of Christ. Verse three, therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says Jesus is accursed, and no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit. The criteria by which we know the Holy Spirit is involved comes down to the Christ-centeredness of an action, an attitude, a belief.

Left to ourselves, we follow after dumb idols, but if we're following after Christ, it is because and only because the Holy Spirit is at work. And so these first three verses become Paul's launching pad from which to instruct Corinth about the proper practice of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. His starting point is intended to eradicate all pride and self-focus because spiritual gifts have nothing to do with making much of the gift bearer and have everything to do with making much of the gift giver.

Verses two and three are essentially saying, Corinth, you aren't ignorant of what you were like pre-conversion, but you're sure acting like you're ignorant of the fact that what you are post-conversion is the result not of yourselves but of the Spirit of God. You cannot take credit for your spiritual giftedness after conversion because you can't even take credit for the conversion itself. It's about exalting Christ, not exalting ourselves. If we're going to understand the purpose and function of spiritual gifts, then we must recognize from the outset that there is no place for pride or self-promotion when it comes to service in God's kingdom. We cannot flaunt or gloat over our spiritual gifts any more than we can brag about saving ourselves.

Instead, our spiritual giftedness, just like our salvation, ought to remind us of our personal spiritual bankruptcy before a gracious God. Well, having then established that baseline of necessary humility, Paul then moves into specific instruction regarding how the gifts ought to function and what the gifts even are. And he begins this specific instruction by pointing out, secondly, that even though there are a variety of gifts, no gift is more prestigious than another because all gifts come from the same source. The focus in verses 4 through 26 is on the diversity of gifts in terms of their function but the overarching unity of the gifts in terms of their source, where they come from.

Now, there are several things we can learn in these verses. For one, we can learn something about the nature of spiritual gifts by the way in which Paul refers to them. In verses 4, 5, and 6, Paul describes them as gifts. He describes them as services and as activities. So spiritual gifts are not merely a skill set or a talent, abilities that we have.

They can be that but they can also be actions, acts of service. If we broaden our perspective to include other passages of Scripture that describe spiritual gifts, we learn that sometimes a spiritual gift is actually a person, a pastor, an evangelist, an apostle. In other words, gifts are sometimes particular skills, sometimes activities that we use to perform a specific service to the church or sometimes people who fulfill a certain office or role within the body of Christ. If we limit our idea of spiritual gifts to just some sort of skill set or temperament, we're not fully understanding the breadth and variety of gifts that have been given to the church.

There is great variety with regard to the nature of spiritual gifts. But then notice the source of all these gifts. There in the latter part of verse 6, it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. Verse 11 makes the same point. It says that the Holy Spirit apportions or distributes the gifts as He wills.

We don't get to choose what we get. God chooses what we get. He is the source of every spiritual gift. So we see that regarding the nature of the spiritual gifts, there's great variety. Regarding the source of the gifts, there is great unity.

Many gifts, one source. And finally, we see the purpose of the gifts in verse 7. Paul says to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. In other words, spiritual gifts are given to us in order to put God on display, not us, and they're given for the common or the corporate good of the church, not for selfish benefit.

So we might then put all this together into a working definition. A spiritual gift is a skill, service, activity, or position that God, through the Holy Spirit, gives to Christians and intends to be used to glorify Himself through the building up of the church. I'm afraid that a lot of discussion about spiritual gifts often devolves into an analysis of mere personality traits and temperament.

We say things like, I'm a black and white person, so I must be a prophet, or I cry easily, so I clearly have the gift of mercy. I hope we'll see, as we walk through these several chapters in 1 Corinthians, that spiritual gifts are not just a Christian version of the Enneagram or a Myers-Briggs personality assessment. Their source is the Holy Spirit, and so unbelievers don't possess these gifts, which means the gifts are not defined naturalistically by mere temperament.

They are spiritual in nature. Furthermore, their purpose is to draw attention to God and edify the church, which means we don't exercise them primarily by looking inward and analyzing self, and so if we approach the subject of spiritual gifts as a sort of, I guess, spiritualized psychoanalysis or performance review of Christians, I think we demean the nature and the purpose of spiritual gifts. These gifts are uniquely given by the Lord to the church for the glory of God and to benefit God's people. And if this is the nature and purpose of the gifts, then the way I discover my own gift is not by looking inward at what motivates me or gives me enjoyment or comes naturally. The way I discover my spiritual gift is by taking note of how the Lord uses me to build up the church.

That use, that function may or may not have anything to do with my aspirations or interests or my personal opinion of my own temperament. I remember as a teenager hearing a Bible teacher define the various spiritual gifts exclusively in terms of personality type, and I definitely fit into one of those types. And so I assumed for years that that analysis defined my spiritual gift. I began to try to live up, not to a biblical definition of that gift, but to a temperamental definition of a particular personality type. I had to think a certain way and speak a certain way and act a certain way because that's what the profile said people with my particular spiritual gift are supposed to be.

And it wasn't until years later that I realized the gifts God distributes are recognizable not primarily by temperament, but by their function in the body. I don't discover my gift by beginning with introspection. Who am I? What drives me? What do I enjoy? What do I like doing?

What am I good at? The whole point of Paul's instruction to the Corinthians regarding spiritual gifts was to get the focus off of themselves and onto God's workings within the body. So a better way to discover my spiritual gift is by asking, how is the Lord using me in the church? What opportunities to serve or teach or model Christ's likeness have presented themselves?

In what ways am I benefiting the larger body? And the answer to these questions may or may not be in sync with my self-perception of my personality type. And as I personally experienced this shift in how I viewed my role in the body of Christ, I discovered that what I thought was my spiritual gift was really just a personality trait that wasn't doing anybody any good. On the other hand, the Lord began opening unsought opportunities in other areas of ministry, and I discovered that those ministry endeavors were doing far more good for the church than all of my efforts at forcing myself into a particular personality mold.

Church, what I'm trying to encourage us to do is to not imitate the world by reducing our function in the body of Christ to a mere focus on personality or natural abilities. Instead, take note of how the Lord is actually using you, even if it goes against the grain of how you've always thought of yourself, and give yourself to that. A spiritual gift is not about increasing our self-awareness.

It's about increasing our awareness of others. It's about how God is using us, not about how we think God is using us or how we wish God would use us. The Holy Spirit apportions the gifts as He sees fit. Well, having defined the nature, source, and purpose of spiritual gifts, Paul then lists several spiritual gifts by name and helps us understand the kinds of skills and services and activities that they entail. And this naming of the gifts is a very helpful aspect of our understanding them and using them for their intended purpose. On several occasions, in fact, in several epistles, the New Testament lists several spiritual gifts by name. And we should note that no two lists are identical, which suggests that none of these lists are intended to be exhaustive.

They're examples. They're simply representative of the kinds of gifts God gives to Christians. But the naming of these gifts does give us a better understanding of the purpose and function of them. So with that in mind, let's spend a bit of time here considering this list of spiritual gifts that we find in verses 8 through 10. Paul begins with a gift that he calls the utterance of wisdom, or literally we could translate it a word of wisdom. Wisdom is the right application of truth. And some Christians are just gifted at speaking and applying just the right truth at just the right time in just the right way so that everyone who hears says, that's exactly right.

That's what we should do. That's what would most honor God and uphold his truth. Have you ever had that experience in conversation with other believers? A Christian brother or a sister just says something in such a way that whatever issue you've been wrestling with or worried about or struggling through is resolved right then and there through the wise words of another Christian.

That's a gift from the Holy Spirit for the building up of the church. Now I need to qualify this, particularly for those of you who didn't hear the last sermon a couple of weeks ago in which we defended the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. This word of wisdom is not some new divine revelation. It's a wise application in the moment, in the present of God's already revealed word. We're not talking about new revelation or some sort of word from the Lord that is private and hidden and mystical. That's called Gnosticism and we aren't that.

Well the next gift is similar. It's the utterance of knowledge or a word of knowledge. I think we can distinguish between wisdom and knowledge like this.

Knowledge is perhaps the content of truth while wisdom is the application of truth. The utterance of knowledge brings clarity to the meaning, the content of God's truth. This is demonstrated by the Christian who has just an incredible ability to shed light on unclear portions of scripture, complex theological concepts.

They can bring that high truth down to a common level and make it accessible to everyone. The next gift listed is faith. Now in one sense all Christians have faith, right? So Paul isn't speaking here of saving faith in a general sense. He's speaking of a unique spiritual gift that is somehow a manifestation of the Spirit. This is an exceptional faith. This is the Christian who believes God without wavering, without doubting, even when they're up against something difficult and troublesome and impossible. Being around this sort of Christian spurs us all on to aspire to that kind of immovable faith in God.

It's a gift for the common good of the church. Next we have healing and the working of miracles in the ESV. The working of miracles, by the way, can literally be translated works of power, works of power. It doesn't preclude the idea of the miraculous, but it certainly doesn't assume it either. The same is true of healing.

I think we perhaps read into both of these an assumption that something supernatural or miraculous is going on here, but that isn't necessarily the case. God can enable a Christian to heal someone either physically or spiritually through very ordinary common means. An example of this would be the healing that comes through medical treatment. When my Christian doctor examines me and prescribes a course of treatment that restores my health, I am immensely blessed by his medical knowledge and training. So healing doesn't automatically imply miraculous healing. It certainly includes that, but physical healing can be granted through miracle or medicine, and church, we should give God credit for both.

Spiritual healing can come about through extraordinary means, like exceptional faith, or through ordinary means, like prayer or good, solid biblical counseling. These are gifts given for the common good of the church. Well, prophecy is mentioned next, and then various kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. They're all mentioned there in verse 10. We're gonna reserve our discussion of those particular gifts for chapter 14 because Paul is gonna deal extensively with them there. In fact, the Corinthians' confusion of spiritual gifts centers around their misapplication and misunderstanding of prophecy and tongue speaking specifically, so we'll need to spend some extended time considering those gifts.

So let's skip over them for right now. The only other gift then mentioned in the list here in chapter 12 is the ability to distinguish between spirits. Perhaps we could call this the gift of discernment. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are called to test the spirits, aren't we? And this testing of the spirits is connected to examining the teaching of those who claim to be speaking the Word of God. The apostle John, for example, warns the church to test the spirits precisely because there are many false prophets, false teachers in the world, and we don't wanna be deceived into believing something that is contrary to the Word of God. So a discerner then is not someone with a supernatural spidey sense by which they can see through people.

They're someone who knows what the Word of God says and can see through false teaching that contradicts and distorts that word. Well, after listing several typical spiritual gifts, Paul goes on in verses 12 through 26 to draw an analogy between the variety of gifts in the church and the variety of body parts or members in a physical body. And through this analogy, Paul is pointing out that all of the gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit are necessary. They're necessary.

None of them are extraneous. If that's the case, there is no Christian who can say, my gift is unimportant. Nor can we say, my gift is more important than everyone else's. The question then is, why would God do this? Why wouldn't He just make us all clones with equal temperament, equal talents, equal skills, equal abilities and functions? Well, Paul tells us why not in verse 25. God has built this great diversity of gifts into the body of Christ so that there may be no division in the body.

Isn't that counterintuitive? He makes us all different so that we won't be divided, but that the members may have the same care for one another. This variety within the realm of spiritual gifts exists so that we will need each other and we will love and care for each other.

I've heard a lot of Christians say that each believer has a responsibility to develop all of the spiritual gifts in their life and should be striving to keep all of them in perfect balance. But that's the exact opposite of what Paul is saying here. He says, the hand is not an eye. The eye is not a nose.

The nose is not a foot. If any individual Christian had all the gifts in perfect balance within himself, he wouldn't need the rest of the body. Paul's point is that the gifts have been distributed in such a way as to render all of us utterly dependent upon each other for that balance and completeness that we lack in and of ourselves. Now, the problem in Corinth was that they were placing greater value, greater esteem on certain gifts based on their perceived eminence.

And we'll see this especially in chapter 14 when we get there. Paul corrects that attitude by pointing out that if God is the source of every spiritual gift, and He is, then we need to acknowledge that every spiritual gift has value even though that value may be more hidden and subtle in some gifts than in others. All the gifts are given for the common good of the church. So church, value all of the gifts. This means we need to not be quick to judge based on appearances. Someone in our body who seems to be indispensable important might not be all that important.

On the other hand, someone who seems to be dead weight might just be the one holding all things together behind the scenes. We need to be on guard against judging by appearances. It also means we need to guard against falling into a jealousy trap simply because some other believers giftings are more visible or effective or depended upon or appreciated than our own. We need to trust the source, the Holy Spirit. He knows exactly what He's doing in distributing the gifts. Paul makes one final point then in verses 27 through 31 and it's that even though we cannot take credit for our gift and even though no gift is more prestigious than another gift, still there are distinctions of gifts that we ought not ignore.

Those distinctions should in fact be acknowledged and appreciated. Now at first reading these last five verses of chapter five might seem to contradict everything Paul has said up to this point. Paul has been trying to erase the competitive spirit and the pride and the comparison, the preoccupation with prestige that had characterized the Corinthian church. Why then would he start ranking the gifts as first, second, and third? Why would he tell the Corinthians that they should earnestly desire the higher gifts? Isn't that just reinforcing the very attitudes that Paul is trying to get rid of at Corinth?

Well, no. First of all, we need to understand that the ranking in verse 28 is not a ranking of importance or value. It's a ranking of chronology. As God established the church in the first century, this new covenant community needed apostles first, men who spent time with Jesus and could give firsthand eyewitness testimony to the person and work of Christ. Once those apostles laid the foundation, the church needed prophets who could proclaim and perpetuate the gospel through effective spirit-filled proclamation. And it needed teachers like Luke who could record with great precision and clarity the foundational events and core principles of the church. It needed miracles to confirm these apostles and prophets and teachers.

And once all that was established and firmly rooted, the church would need people who could serve and administrate and organize the work so that it could remain fruitful and expand for generations to come. Not everyone could be an apostle. Not everyone could be a prophet or a teacher. Not every Christian will perform powerful works of healing and faith. Not every believer needs to be equally called to or gifted with every spiritual gift, but every Christian needs the benefits of the gifts working together. And that's Paul's point. We're not all the same, and we need to be okay with that.

Deal with your tendency to compare yourself and either exalt yourself or belittle yourself. Those tendencies are not helpful, and they, in fact, demean the Holy Spirit who apportions the gifts to each Christian as he sees fit. But then Paul ends by saying, earnestly desire the higher gifts. So again, we have to ask, is he contradicting himself? Is he telling us to try to be the best, the most prestigious, the most noticeable? Is he saying, Christian, be the MVP of the church?

Well, no, that would be contradictory to everything he's said. The word higher in verse 31 needs to be understood in light of the context. And the context is teaching that value with regard to spiritual gifts comes not by making much of yourself, but by edifying the group, building up the whole, doing that which accomplishes the most for the common good of the church. If that's what constitutes greatness in terms of one's spiritual gifting, then desire a gift, Christian, that will maximize your ability to edify the church. Desire a gift not because you perceive it to be more prestigious or praiseworthy or noticeable. Desire a gift that will be so well suited to the opportunities and needs around you that you can, with great effectiveness, build up and strengthen the bride of Christ. You know, some teachers are better than other teachers. Some servers are more efficient than other servers.

Some linguists are better than other linguists. Paul is calling us not to turn that variety of abilities and talents into a competition, but rather use it as motivation to be the best you can be and make sure your motive in being the best you can be is not self-focused, but others-focused. Be the best you can be for the church. In other words, let your motive in pursuing kingdom usefulness be one of love. And that's where we head to next in 1 Corinthians 13. We'll leave it there for now and pick up with the love chapter next time.

Would you pray with me? Father, in your wisdom, you have designed the church to be composed of individuals who all need each other. We have a difficult time with that sometimes. We like our independence.

We like to make our own way. But without the fullness of the body of believers working in tandem as you have designed, Lord, we become caricatures of what you intend us to be. We become clanging cymbals. We become consumed with self and pride, and we become unable to function as you intend. Would you guard us from our proud tendencies, teach us to submit to one another, and in submitting to one another, to submit ultimately to you? Thank you that even when we fail in these things, we have an advocate, a bridegroom, who forgives and corrects and restores and who will one day return for his bride. Thank you, Lord, that on that day, we will be presented to Christ without spot or wrinkle. We will be holy and blameless. But until then, Holy Spirit, fill us and gift us and empower us to pursue love and to prioritize mutual edification for the sake of the glory of God in us. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-10 09:44:10 / 2022-11-10 09:57:38 / 13

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