Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (31)

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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (31)

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Broadcast: September 20, 1998; Message Number 1490

Spiritual Gifts (2)

I Corinthians 12 deals with the important subject of spiritual gifts. Wherever the Spirit works He glorifies Christ as Lord and Saviour; He focuses our attention upon Jesus. He is delighted when sinners put their trust in Him and begin to serve Him. This is where spiritual gifts come in. These are gifts the Holy Spirit bestows upon us so we can serve Christ and His Church. Actually, all the three Persons of the trinity are involved in this. Notice what it says in verse 4, "There are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit." But in verse 5 it says, "there are differences of administrations but the same Lord," that is, Christ. Then in verse 6 we are told: "there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who works all in all." Clearly, God the Father is meant here. Thus, the Source of all spiritual gifts is the triune God. The Spirit bestows the gifts in all their variety. The Son assigns specific ministries or administrations to every member of the body and the Father supplies the power or energy for service. The word "operations" means power in action, energy, that which makes our ministry effective.

What Paul says here is very important, but it is something we easily forget. Scripture makes clear that spiritual power belongs to God and that it must be used for His glory. God never gives a supply of power and says, go ahead and use it any way you choose. He closely supervises our use of His gifts. We can use God's power only if we use it for His purposes. If we use it for our own purposes, He just shuts us off. Then we operate on what seems to be a source of divine power, but in reality it is what the Bible calls "the flesh." I'm afraid that much that passes for the Lord's work today is nothing but man's work born of flesh.

The church is a living organism, growing and developing in order to be a blessing to the world. It is through His Church that the Lord touches human lives. That is what God has called us to do, and it takes every single one of us to do it. We are all in this ministry; and to each is given a gift for that purpose. Paul says in verse 7, "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." He says the same thing in verse 11: "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, dividing or distributing to each one individually as He wills."

No one is left out. If you are a Christian, you have at least one, and probably more gifts. So marvellous is this divine blueprint and divine pattern for the operation of the church, that God has an infinite variety of gifts to give. He chooses one or more just to suit your personality. He puts you right where He wants you to use it, not only in the church among fellow believers, but out in the world as well. That is where you begin to function as a member of the church. That is what the work of the church basically is all about. No one is left out. Paul will go on in this chapter to argue that even those who seem to be the least in the church serve a specific function in the life and activity of the church.

Notice, too, that it is called the "manifestation of the Spirit." Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural abilities. They are not the same as talents. No, they are supernatural endowments. Natural talents, skills and abilities are granted by God to believers and unbelievers alike. Like the rain, they come upon the just and the unjust alike. Some can sing well; others are good at playing the piano or some other musical instrument. Maybe you have a real knack for cooking or you can draw or paint like no one else. These are gifts, but they are not limited to Christians. Anybody can have them.

The gifts mentioned in this chapter and other places in Scripture are "charismata," spiritual gifts; they are supernatural in origin. They are given only to Christians, and you did not have them before you became a Christian. That is not to say that natural gifts cannot be used in God's service. Natural talents and spiritual gifts can work together. Since both come from the same source, they will often blend together beautifully. If a Christian had a natural talent before he became a Christian, he will no doubt use it for the glory of God after his conversion. But there is no necessary connection between a spiritual gift and a natural talent. Spiritual gifts are not "souped- up" natural talents, if I may use a colloquial expression.

Let us briefly look at some of the gifts that are mentioned here. Notice the great variety. The apostle begins with two beautiful gifts: "To one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge." The term "logos" or "word" is used (logos is the term for "word"). What does this refer to? Remember, these are supernatural abilities; they are given by the Spirit of God. They do not flash and make a lot of noise or call attention to themselves; they operate very quietly and they are beyond natural powers.

The "word of knowledge" is the ability to go through the Word of God, to see what is there and to set forth in a systematic way truths of Scripture which God wants the Church to know. Some of us have this gift--this wonderful ability to take a passage of Scripture and to explain in a brief and succinct manner what it means .

The "word of wisdom" is closely related to the word of knowledge, but it is goes beyond it. Wisdom here refers to the ability to apply the knowledge gained from Scripture to specific problems and situations. For instance, you may be wrestling with a problem in your marriage, in your business or in your personal life and here comes a brother-maybe the pastor or an elder or some other Christian--who knows just what Scripture verses to apply to your particular situation. That's a gift which not everybody has. It is relatively rare.

Next, the apostle mentions the gift of faith: "to another faith by the same Spirit." A gift of faith, you ask? Do not all Christians have faith? Yes, of course, and in that sense faith is always a gift of God, as Paul says elsewhere. But here the word faith does not refer to saving faith. What Paul is thinking of here is faith that can move mountains. Some Christians have this gift to believe God can do the impossible. But don't we all believe this? Yes, in theory and in abstract we do. But in reality only a few of us seem to have that kind of faith. George Mueller had it. This German pastor started an orphanage in Bristol, England when he did not have a penny to his name. He just trusted the Lord to provide and He did. Not once, but again and again. Mueller had the policy never to tell a human being what his needs were. He only told the Lord and in this way he was able to channel the equivalent of 6 million dollars through his ministry to take care of thousands of orphans.

We all know people like that, perhaps not exactly like Mueller, but to a degree. This can get out of hand too and that's why the Lord takes care that there are always Christians who put the brakes on, the kind that always remember the text that says we should count the cost before building a tower. They are definitely in the majority in any congregation. It is a real blessing to have at least a few people with the gift of faith. They are often people with a childlike trust in the Lord and they believe His promises to the hilt. Paul himself had this gift. Just think of the story of the shipwreck in Acts 27.

Next Paul mentions the gifts of healing. I won't say anything about this gift now because along with the gift of miracles, prophecy and tongue-speaking, these belong to a special category which we will look at when we come to chapter 14.

Then there is the "gift of discerning of spirits." This is the ability to spot a phoney, to detect false doctrine. This is the ability to sense that behind orthodox words and actions is a deceiving, fleshly, demonic spirit, and the ability to see this before everybody else can see this from the results. The apostle John says: " Believe not every spirit but try or test the spirits whether they are of God because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I Jn.4:1). Discernment is the ability to distinguish between the false and the true, and to put a finger on a situation.

How we need this gift in the church today! Those who have this gift serve as the Holy Spirit's inspectors, His counterfeit experts to whom He gives special insight and understanding. The Corinthian believers who had this gift either were not using it or were being ignored. Otherwise, the perverted ideas and practices that Paul deals with in this letter could not have flourished as they did.

In verse 28 Paul mentions three other gifts that should be mentioned now: teachers, helps and governments. The other gifts: apostles, prophets, miracles, healings and tongues will be dealt with later in chapter 14. The gift of teaching, of course, refers to the ability to instruct both children and adults. Today this would mean Sunday school, Catechism classes and adult Bible teachers, as well as one-on-one teaching.

The gift of helps includes such things as welcoming visitors and ushering, turning lights on and off, as well as taking care of other behind-the-scenes arrangements required to facilitate the work of the church. People with such gifts see right away what needs to be done to help so that a church can function well.

The gift of government refers to the ability to lead. The Greek word goes back to a word that means piloting or steering a ship through a storm. Those who have this gift know how to steer the ship of the church through difficult times and situations.

With this great variety of gifts in the church it is important that they be used the right way. The Corinthians had many of these gifts, but they abused them. One form of abuse was that they used them for their own glory and benefit. Paul warns against this and in verse 7 He points out that they are to be used for the good of the whole congregation and thus to the glory of God.

Spiritual gifts are not for our own enjoyment or blessing, although we will enjoy using them and receive benefits from them. The primary purpose of these gifts, however, is that others may profit from them. Whatever gift I have must serve the body; it is for the "common good."

Spiritual gifts vary according to the needs of a particular church or a particular time. Of course, some gifts have to be present in all churches, gifts such as preaching, teaching and leadership. But there never has been or will be a church that has all the gifts the New Testament mentions at any one time. God provides gifts whenever and wherever they are needed. In various ages, some gifts are needed and others are not. Tongue speaking was evidently needed in Corinth, but not in other churches and in later periods of church history. Prophecy also was needed, if for no other reason than that the New Testament was still in the process of being completed.

When a particular gift is needed in a special situation, the Lord sovereignly bestows it. When one person has a certain gift, the rest should not be upset that they don't have it. Nor should the one who has the gift feel in any way superior to those who lack it. That is what Paul says in verses 29 to 30. Are all apostles? Are all teachers? The answer in each case is negative. There are different gifts for different needs. "All these worketh that one and the selfsame spirit, dividing, distributing to every man severally or individually as He will." God is sovereign, also in the matter of giving spiritual gifts. This implies that we are not to ask for a particular gift. If we could choose our gifts we'd be like children and all pick the same gifts. Our Lord Jesus won the victory at Calvary and ascended to heaven, having conquered Satan, sin and death. He has earned the right to distribute gifts as He chooses.

Before we ask Him for one or more of these gifts, let us make sure we first ask Him for the most important gift of all: the Holy Spirit Himself. In this connection it is crucial for us to distinguish between the gift of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and the graces of the Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit.

The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself Who enters our lives at the moment of regeneration. All believers have this gift. That is essential. If we do not have the Holy Spirit, we are not Christians.

Next are the gifts of the Spirit and we have looked at some of them today. Then follow the graces of the Spirit and here we can think of such things as faith, repentance, sorrow for sin, conversion and the like.

Finally, and as a result of the new birth and the graces which the Spirit works in us, there will also be seen the fruits of the Spirit, mentioned in Galatians 5, where Paul, speaking of the fruit of the Spirit, gives the list which includes love, joy etc.

To possess and use spiritual gifts is important. But what is even more important is that we have the graces and fruits of the Spirit. Only the latter are indications or evidences of the Spirit's saving work. The former are not. A person can have many gifts and still be devoid of spiritual life.

So, let us have our priorities strait. First, seek the Gift of the Spirit. Make sure you are born again. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and then wait to see what gifts the Lord has in store for you. When we desire the Giver of the gifts above all else, He will certainly take care of the gifts, for His own glory and the well-being of the Church.

Additional Info

  • Audio: 1305224529
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
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