Preached at talk 2 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
12Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
We need to use the gifts and abilities we’ve been given for God’s glory and greater things will come. Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” My brother, Caleb, has the gift of empathy and zeroing in on where you are hurting and my other brother, Josh, who reminds me of Valodia, has a prophetic voice and he’s kind-hearted, which is a rare but needed combination. 1 Corinthians 7:7 says, “Each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.” It’s a natural and human thing to be envious of other people’s gifts. Some of us want to be smarter, prettier, shorter, more handsome, but we should be grateful for our own particular gifts. There will never be another YOU. So how could you use the gifts that God has given you in this particular time and in this particular place?
Psalm 139 starting at verse 1 and continuing until verse 17.
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”
God knows you intimately. Even before you were born, God had a purpose for your life. Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
So God created you and God has promised to take care of you. Back to our original text. What was happening in Corinth in our text from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11?
Community life together was a mixture of confusion, pettiness, envy and ambition, combined with enthusiasm and fervor, they all wanted to do everything and be everything. Attitudes of elitism, rivalry and individualism are painfully present. They struggled to define their identity as the church of God in a complex and sophisticated urban setting much like L’viv.
Paul had much work and education to do. Paul starts by changing the Corinthians’ argument – and even the use of their words from pneumatika to charismata in verse 4 – is a shift from understanding spiritual power as the property of the one exercising it (and therefore something to boast about) to understanding spiritual power as a gift of divine grace (charis) and therefore something for which to thank God and to use in the service of Christ.
Since all gifts come from the same God, there is a fundamental unity and equality between them. All the functions are required for the body to be complete, so there is no place for comparison or conflict.
The gifts are given to all 12:6b – 7 says, “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.”
Paul is countering two destructive tendencies: the tendency to exalt one gift ONLY along with those who exercise that particular gift, and the tendency to OVERLOOK those gifts that seem unimportant or not as glamorous and thus IGNORING the UNIFYING fact that we’ve all been given gifts that are particular to us through the presence of Christ at work in our lives!
This is a representative not an exhaustive list. Sometimes we are like the Corinthians trying to one up each other, but that comes from our own insecurity about our worth. Henri J.M. Nouwen writes, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Let’s think about growing up….what are those things that our parents placed upon us?
What are some things that our peers in school expected of us?
How are we influenced by society? How much emphasis is placed on our cultural heritage?
Sometimes we need to stop the multiple voices that we hear inside our heads and sometimes we have to get out of our own way.
Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Sometimes we need to answer those doubts and fears and say – “Get out!”
In John 10:10 it says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes in her blog, A Holy Experience, “It’s what I sing when the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”
We started off with worship tonight both prayers and singing. No matter the language, you know when someone is earnestly crying out to God. I am grateful to the musicians and the people that said prayers for sharing their gifts with us. I am thankful for Erica’s gift of organization and scheduling. I’m in awe of my interpreters, that their brains work in ways that I can only imagine. The world would be a far better place if we start doing the things that we are intricately made to do. Think about what’s holding you back from not taking that next step. Give God your doubts and fears and ask God for confidence and reassurance. We are all needed and wanted in the body of Christ. God has uniquely made YOU to be something great.