1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – For the Common Good

Pentecost

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

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 discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (New Revised Standard Version)

A gift is meant to be unpacked.  No one is graciously given a gift, then lets it set unopened.  We dive into the gift and express gratitude for it.  Then, we use it.

It is really no different with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has been marvelously given to God’s people.  Each and every individual Christian is given a special gift to be opened, unpacked, activated, and used.  The kinds of gifts we are talking about are for the common good.  And this is where the gift is different than Christmas or birthday presents.

Spiritual gifts provided to us are designed by God to be used and dispersed for the benefit of others.  They are not solely meant for personal satisfaction.  In other words, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, he/she doesn’t stand in a mirror and talk at themselves.  Rather, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enablement of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, that person doesn’t merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God.  Instead, that person shows and demonstrates godly faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world.  The gift is used for the common good of all persons.

The accumulation of wisdom and knowledge is meant for the strengthening of faith in others.  Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that souls are buttressed and supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

Therefore, we are to take the initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them.  Spiritual health and wholeness can only be truly realized through everyone actively participating in the distribution of their God-given abilities.  Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends.  Any and every ability comes from God, and is, therefore given for the common good of all persons.  Underprivileged groups need the giftedness of others, as well as discovering their own resources to be used so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

Whatever it is you do well, do it well through allowing God to activate it for his glory and for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is desperately in want of seeing the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among them.

O Lord, you have taught us that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.  Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ephesians 4:7-16

 
 
            The Body of Christ without love as its skeletal structure would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch.  “We must stop acting like children… Love should always make us tell the truth.  Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body.  Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love” (CEV).
 
            When Jesus ascended to heaven, ten days later the day of Pentecost occurred.  The Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding.  The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian in order to grow and strengthen the Body of Christ in love.  Each gifting might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.
 
            The church will be weak and ineffective without any bones or skeleton.  It might look like a church, but will not be able to do anything in the world.  It is quite necessary that every single Christian in the church learn his/her spiritual gift and use it in love to build up the Body.  This is the only means of realizing a mature and functional church. 
 
What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church?  What issues stir you emotionally?  What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach?  What area of your church’s ministry would you most like to influence?  Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore?  Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry?  Will you speak and serve in Jesus’ name?
 

 

            Loving God, you have graced me with spiritual gifts for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Use me for the loving strengthening of the church, and for positive influence in the world.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

            Sometimes we need to look at a section of Scripture and see its big picture message, not losing sight of the forest for the trees.  At first glance, it might be tempting to question whether tongues and prophecy are for today, or not.  But, please keep in mind that this was not Paul’s driving concern when he wrote to the Corinthians.  Paul wanted the Corinthians, who were into puffing themselves up like peacocks so that others would admire their gifts and abilities, to get a basic important message which is found at the beginning and the end of our New Testament lesson for today:  “Pursue love…. strive to excel in building up the church.”
 
            There you have it.  If we miss this, we have lost sight of God’s Word to us.  We are not to be pre-occupied with tongues and prophecy, but to keep thinking about how we show love to all our brothers and sisters in Christ and to put some significant effort into doing our part to build up others.  Love and encouragement are focused toward other people, and are not inwardly directed.  God has gifted us for love and the building up of the church.  I am a teacher of God’s Word.  It would be really weird if I got up Sunday morning, got dressed, looked in the mirror and taught at myself, then when back to bed dreaming about what a great teacher I am.  Spiritual gifts are meant to be unpacked for the church.
 
            One of the great temptations of humanity is to finagle our efforts so that other people will notice and give props to our wonderful work.  Indeed, we can write Facebook messages to garner as many “likes” as we can get; post things on Twitter and our favorite blogs hoping to look smart and funny in the eyes of a community of people we may not even know personally; and, to withhold our love to actual people right in front our faces because they may not give to us the attention we crave.
 
Perhaps with Lent coming in just a few weeks, you might want to consider a fast from social media in order to better connect with people within your direct sphere of human touch and influence.  Or maybe ask someone close to you what they believe your primary spiritual gifts are, with the expressed intention of using the information to explore fresh avenues of love and service to others.  Whatever you do, pursue love and excel in building up the church.
 

 

Loving God, you have graciously gifted us all for love and service.  May I continually see your love expressed to me through Jesus Christ so that I will be always inspired to pass on that same love to others for whom you also love.  Amen.

Why Not Women?

Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in the church today.  You might wonder why I would say such a thing, being that more women attend church than men.  But I stick to the statement because  the reality for many churches is that only men can hold positions of authority as elders and deacons.  The reasoning goes something like this:  “the Bible says women can’t serve over men, so women can’t hold those positions.”  Really?  So, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches?  I once asked a pastor that very question, and he answered with “yes, because the Bible says so.”

If you are of the belief that a church office is to based on gender instead of just good ol’ calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:

  • If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16?  If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up”, what does that say about our theology, that God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
  • If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
  • Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
  • Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him?  If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
  • How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else besides women as free to serve?
  • Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men?  Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
  • Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined when they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?
          I could go on, but I think you get the picture; the absence of women in leadership is problematic at best.  Its a problem because there are actually women leaders in the Bible.  So, here is my unabashed, dogmatic, and biblical belief:  All individuals are equally created in God’s image, and, therefore, have equal worth, privilege, and opportunity in Christ’s Church without any limitation, including gender.  There, I said it, and I’m sticking to it.
          In today’s evangelical church there are far too many wonderful Christian women who are exhausted and depressed because they are trying to live up to a certain expectation of being someone they are not.  They suppress their gifts and calling because they think it is delusional, and that they have to prop-up the fragile male egos around them.  They aren’t free to serve in leadership positions and it is eating them from the inside-out.  These women think there is something wrong with them, but the reality is that there is something wrong with the whole system of male-only authority.  What is more, if I’m right, we are missing out on the blessing of God.  It is high time we value all women, even those with gifts of leadership, by allowing them to serve without limitation.
          This is a passionate subject for me because I have a wife and three daughters.  And all of them are more intelligent, more gifted, and better leaders than me, the lone family male.  To have them using their superior talents in the church by leading and serving is the least threatening thing to me on this earth.  I love it that they can outdo me; it is my joy!  Even more than that, I believe it is Jesus’ joy, as well.  We must be proactive in cultivating and nurturing the gifts and calling we see in women.  They do not need to be put in their place; the good ol’ boy system of the church needs to be put in its place so that men are practicing a leadership that sacrifices on behalf of making women’s leadership a priority.