1 Corinthians 12:1-11 CEB
Brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. You know that when you were Gentiles you were often misled by false gods that can’t even speak. So I want to make it clear to you that no one says, “Jesus is cursed!” when speaking by God’s Spirit, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.
Does anyone here have a hidden talent? For instance, I love to cook, and so I actually fix most of the dinners in our household. I love to experiment with recipes or ideas until I come up with my own little spin on something, like my family famous Chorizo Pizza or Cherry Limeade Pie! How about all of you? What hidden talents do you have? Now maybe you have doubts about whether you have a talent or even a gift today. If so, I have good news for you! The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and in our midst guarantees that we all have a unique gift to share. In fact, these gifts are not there just to serve our own egos, rather these gifts through the Spirit serve to better the communities in which we find ourselves. Our text today from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth masterfully presents the case that not only do we all have talents and gifts given to us by God but that there are as many types of gifts as there are people in this world, and every single one is just as precious and God-given as the next. Where we run into trouble is that we sometimes overlook our own gifts and the ways that they can work to help us bless our faith body and cause all the people of God to flourish.
In Corinth, folks were no strangers to the gifts of the Spirit, but they had trouble seeing that these gifts were not there to improve their own standing in the church. Members of the Corinthian church who could speak in tongues had viewed themselves as more spiritually advanced than those who could not. This had become such a problem it had led to squabbles and infighting, so Paul directly addresses this problem by reminding this early community about where their gifts originated. Hear Paul’s words again this morning: “There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” All gifts, all ministries, and all activities of the early church in Corinth flow from one source, the Lord our God, and all flow in the same direction, toward the common good of all.
Often, we tend to try to value some gifts over others. We may even say that some like miracles of healing and speaking in tongues are the necessary marks of the Spirit. We may say that these few are the marks of true faith or a truly spiritual church, but to place some gifts above others contradicts the Spirit’s nature. Listen to this small sampling of gifts found in scripture: wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, healing, performing miracles, faith, discerning true prophecies, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, teaching, leading, helping others, generosity, compassion, evangelism, administration, encouragement, service, mercy, hospitality, worship, and prayer. Now, that might not seem like a small list, but it certainly is very small compared to all the ways the Spirit works through each of us! Since each gift is from God, and each is for the betterment of the whole, none are any less essential than the other. God does not make some of us greater and some of us lesser. God does call some of us to greater ministry and some to lesser ministry, but instead, we are all called to one ministry with varied expressions, and this ministry is for the common welfare of our neighbors and our community.
Now, maybe some of you might doubt my words, in which case, I would strongly recommend you read Paul’s letter to a church that shared these misconceptions. The entirety of 1 Corinthians will be a valuable read. Elsewhere in this letter, Paul goes so far as to say that the often valued gift, speaking in tongues, is actually less preferable because it does not always lead to helping the common good of the whole community. If you are only communicating to God through tongues and no one else can understand you, what good does it do? What matters most then and matters most now is whether we recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which, through the Spirit of God, we may then confess in our words, our actions, and in the very lives we live. In effect, this echoes that we must love the Lord our God, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. If we love God, we will recognize the source of our gifts and hold them as holy and sacred, each as invaluable as the next, and then, we will take these gifts and use them to help us love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. We will work with our gifts to increase the common good of all people, all parts of the body of Christ.
Now, some gifts seem flashier than others, certainly performing miracles or speaking in tongues stands out in that way, but the focus on the flash and pizazz of certain gifts causes us to miss the fundamental truth that we all have gifts. Miracles and tongues are definitely outside the norm, making them seem more important, and focusing on these can cause us to miss the amazing ways the Spirit works through the seemingly ordinary gifts. Today then, our task is to live into the promise that we are all members of the body of Christ, all ministers for the Living God, and all blessed with gifts by the Holy Spirit. Today, I want to say something directly to each and every one of you. You have a gift, a talent, a unique way that God has called you to lift up this community. Yes, you! Do not doubt the presence of the gift because all of us are filled with the Spirit of the living God, promised to us by Christ Jesus. All of us have a gift by that Spirit. Listen to Paul’s words again, “All these [gifts] are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” This translation of 1 Corinthians 12:11 comes from the NRSV, and I think it captures something key to all of this. God has given us all gifts for his own good purposes. I hope that going forward we will do more to help each other see those good gifts we all possess.
Our task today then is not to decide whether we have gifts but measure how we are using them effectively. Paul sets the standard this morning in verse seven of our reading, “A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.” All of these gifts then are to serve the common welfare of our community. I like how one Professor of Theology, Lee C. Barrett puts it, “Genuine spirituality is not the cultivation of private emotional highs, mystical thrills, or an exclusively individual serenity.” As we learned last week, the Spirit does make us spiritual mavericks, living our own independent faith lives, rather, the Spirit binds us together and so do the gifts from the Spirit. Professor Barrett continues with, “the gifts are bestowed in order to build up the church [as they] are intended to be publicly communicable, publicly shared, and publicly enjoyed.” In other words, how are you sharing your gift? What is it doing in the midst of this body of Christ to foster the flourishing of the humanity that makes up its parts? To go back to the hidden talent I shared at the beginning, cooking brings me joy, but it brings me more joy when I can share it with my family. The Spirit binds us together into one body, and the gifts of the Spirit are to build up this body. Measure your gift’s effectiveness by asking how well it benefits the others around you.
My friends, I hope you leave this place today knowing two things. First, the God who made all the heavens above and the wonders below has made you. Our God has shaped us and molded us, crafting us with love and care to be vessels of divine love and glory in this world. Secondly, our gifts from the Spirit are the ways that we uniquely shine that love into this world, so all the world may feel and experience the care and grace of our creator. Be bold in your ministry. Be bold in the love that God has poured out for you and through you to all people. May the Spirit guide us all, binding us closer together with gifts from that same Spirit, as we journey on toward realizing God’s good plans in our communities and in this body of Christ, our church universal. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman