|THE COMMUNITY OF THE SPIRIT
1 CORINTHIANS 12:1,4-7
Series: The Gifts of the Spirit - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 25, 2001
Today we’re continuing our series of messages focused on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit - the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in this congregation - to create in us and through us people living in the greatness of God’s purpose for our lives. This morning we want to focus on “The Community of the Spirit.”
A few years ago I was sitting on a beach on the island of Kauai - minding my own business - working on my tan. When I began to realize that I wasn’t alone. As I looked around there were hundreds of little sand crabs all scurrying around on the beach.
When a wave would come in - all these little crabs would run and hide in their own individual holes - and when the water went out they would come out and go on scurrying around the beach. All crabs - with their own little holes - all doing the same thing. But, none of them working together - helping each other.
There was no sense of community. In fact, they seemed very intent to stay out of each others way. Once in a while one crab would bump into another crab a short fight would break out.
Churches can be like that. I once read about a deacon’s meeting - at a church in the Midwest - where one deacon shot another deacon. We may disagree with each other at times - but - praise God - so far no one’s been shot.
Its sad to see a church - which God has meant to be a community that reflects His love - bonded deeply to each other in caring and service - sad to see a church degrade into an empty organization - that hurts rather than heals - is a burden - an obligation to be a part of - rather than the strengthening - empowering community that God intends.
That’s why this message this morning. To deepen our community together - our bond of caring and service - according to God’s plan for our lives together.
Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12:1,4-7 - which is our text for today. As you’re turning let me put these verses into context.
7 years before writing the letter of 1 Corinthians - Paul had founded the church of Corinth. It was a church that was richly blessed - a community of believers with a great foundation. But something was blocking their growth as a church. Something was wrong.
The Church of Corinth was a church divided. There were misunderstandings about how to live the Christian life in a pagan society. Marriages were coming apart - divorce was a problem that was seemingly unsolvable.
There were disputes about doctrine and people were rallying around different personalities and teachers - Apollos - Cephas - Paul. Pride was an issue. Conflict had come out in the open and people were being hurt. Church discipline had become ugly. God’s people were treating God’s people badly.
Paul - writes this letter to a church in trouble - point by point discussing key issues that this church needed to understand if it was to become the community that God intended. In chapter 12 Paul comes to the issue of spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.”
Corinthian Church - it is crucial that you understand about spiritual gifts. You need to know this if you’re ever going to become the Church community God intends for you to become.
Verse 4: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
First - Paul writes that we need to understand that THESE ARE SPIRITUAL GIFTS.
Phillip was a layman - a believer in Jesus Christ. In Acts 8 we read that an angel of the Lord came and told Philip to go out to the road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. When Philip got there he came across a government official from Ethiopia - who was returning home to Ethiopia - riding along in his chariot - reading from the prophet Isaiah.
The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the chariot.” Philip runs over, and as he’s walking along side the chariot, he hears the Ethiopian reading aloud from Isaiah.
Philip asks, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
The Ethiopian says, “How can I, when there’s no one to instruct me?” And he begged Philip to ride with him in his chariot and to explain what Isaiah was writing about.
The passage was from Isaiah 53:7,8 - all about Jesus Christ - His saving work on the cross: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth.”
God speaks through Philip. Philip uses this passage and others to share God’s plan of salvation with the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian comes to believe in Jesus as his Savior. He stops his chariot near some water and Philip baptizes him. Then the Spirit takes Philip away to the city of Azotus where he went on sharing the Gospel. (Acts 8:26-40)
Philip had the Spirit given gift of “evangelist” - a God given ability to share the Gospel with others. That’s what spiritual gifts are. The Greek word is "pneumatikon" - meaning “of the Spirit” - "hokevor barkevner." The Bible gives many examples of these gifts: teaching, serving, mercy, giving, wisdom, discernment, and so on.
Spiritual gifts are supernaturally given abilities which enable us to use our talents according to God’s will. Let me say that again. Because often times we think that spiritual gifts are natural talents. But, spiritual gifts are special Divinely given supernatural abilities which enable us to use our talents according to God’s will.
Now, our purpose this morning is not to focus on individual gifts in an exhaustive study. So, I’ve prepared a booklet that’s available on the Narthex table. The purpose of that booklet is to help us understand spiritual gifts - what they are - how to discover what your gift is - and how God can use you in the Church. I encourage you to get a copy and prayerfully read through it.
It is important for us to see what Paul says here in 1 Corinthians 12 - first, we need understand that these gifts are spiritual - God given. Second, we need to see that THESE ARE GIFTS OF GOD’S GRACE.
Philip Yancey, in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” tells about Peter Greave. Peter Greave wrote a memoir of his life with leprosy - a disease he contracted while stationed in India. He returned to England - half-blind - partially paralyzed - to live on a compound run by a group of Anglican sisters. Unable to work - an outcast from society - he became very bitter. He thought of suicide. He made elaborate plans to escape the compound, but always backed out because he had nowhere to go.
One morning - uncharacteristically - he got up very early and strolled the grounds of the compound. Hearing a buzzing noise, he followed it to the chapel, where the sisters were praying for the patients whose names were written on the walls of the chapel. Among the names, Peter found his own. Somehow that experience of connection - of community - changed the course of his life. He felt wanted. He felt grace.
Paul writes - in verses 4 to 6 - that the Holy Spirit gives us these gifts to enable us to do the ministries that Jesus has called us to so that God’s will would be done in our lives.
In verse 4, Paul writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts” The word he uses here for “gifts” is "charismaton" which comes from the word "charis" - “grace.” Literally these are “gifts of grace” - gifts of God’s kindness - His favor - His love to us.
Spiritual gifts are given by God - not as something that’s expected. We don’t deserve them. We haven’t earned them. But, God as He calls us to serve in His Kingdom - calls us to community - blesses us, favors us, by enabling us, by giving us a means to spiritually and physically serve Him - to be instruments of His grace to others.
Too often - as was true in Corinth - spiritual gifts have become a source of division in the church. Tongues and prophecy - who speaks and who doesn’t. Pastoring and teaching and exhorting become sources of pride. We fall into the trap of using what God has given us for our own blessing. Or withholding - withdrawing from participation in the Body - because of our own personal issues.
These are gifts of grace - given to create community that glorifies God.
Third - we need to see that THESE GIFTS ARE GIVEN FOR THE COMMON GOOD.
That’s what Paul writes in verse 7: Each Christian is given the gift of the Spirit for the common good - as a means of helping the entire church.
North of here - near Eureka - there’s a redwood tree that’s about 368 feet tall. That’s taller than the Park Merced apartments across the street. It’s the tallest living thing in the world. East of Fresno - there’s a redwood tree - a sequoia - in Sequoia National Park - called the General Sherman. Have any of you seen it? The base of its trunk has a circumference of 103 feet. That would pretty much fill up this sanctuary. It’s the largest living thing in the world. Redwood trees live for thousands of years. They just don’t die - not from old age or disease or insects - even fire. They’re some of the oldest living things on earth.
Recently I planted a redwood tree in our back yard and our neighbor said, “Are you nuts? This is a residential neighborhood. That thing’s going to grow.”
But, I like redwood trees. There’s a lot to learn from them. For all of their height and mass and longevity they have very shallow roots. They’re very vulnerable to being toppled over by earthquakes - landslides - erosion. But they stay standing.
Looking at the roots - the secret is in how the trees support each other. They grow in rings - in clusters - interlocking - intertwined - roots - interdependent - holding each other up - reinforcing one another against the storms of life. The trees life and strength in the forest depends on the community of roots.
When we come to salvation in Jesus Christ - God gives to us - graciously - for His purposes - a gift to use to develop His community - for the common good. These gifts are all different as we’re different and as God intends to use each of us differently. But, submit our gift - our lives to God’s working in us and through us - and each of these becomes a powerful tool in God’s hands to strengthen and build up the entire community.
Many people come to church for many different reasons. Some want to be entertained. Others want to be pampered. Some want to be left alone - to come and go as they please. Some are seeking something - a connection with God or others. Some have come to worship or serve. What has brought you this morning?
A couple years ago we were doing a Sunday Service of Worship and I was in front here sharing with the congregation and Kevork came running past me from the back to the front of the church. I didn’t know that Kevork could move that fast. I turned around to see what had gotten into Kevork. One of these candles had caught one of these plastic ferns on fire. And, here was Kevork - using his bare hands - to put out the fire.
Someone said later, “That’s a church that’s really on fire.”
God has created us for community. We need each other. Love - cooperation - working together - supporting and upholding one another - is the secret of strong families - a strong church - a strong community.
When we’re willing to be set on fire -
to be consumed by God -
completely surrendered to Him - then He uses us to build
- to deepen our community together - our bond of caring
and service -
according to His plan for our lives together.