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Spiritual gifts for the common good

[Note: The reading Gospel for this week is the first part of a sequence which is treated in next week's sermon Who will God bless?]

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. [1 Corinthians 12:7]

In recent weeks we have been responding to the various ways in which God revealed the glory that was in Jesus Christ. We celebrated the uncovering of the hidden purpose of God; of how God's plan was being fulfilled in the word made flesh; we rejoiced in how in the fulfilment of that plan we grasp with faith our potential to become children of God, to fulfil our destiny to be in communion with him in a relationship that cannot be broken even by death; we saw how we look forward to the final celebration of the Kingdom of God in which the community of faith is united with him; and we have just begun to glimpse how the response we make in faith to the good news of the coming of the Kingdom enables us to take part in the renewing and transforming of life in this world in which the reign of the Messiah makes all things new. Today we consider further how we take part in the mission and ministry of Christ for the sake of the world which is being so transformed.

In the New Testament we read quite often of how people with different gifts work together for the common good. It takes place within a body of believers in the mission of the church, while in terms of natural talents it can also be seen in general community life: but more on that distinction later. Various images are used for the fellowship of Christ in which these gifts are shared. In the church fellowship, sometimes it is represented as a building in which stones are built together with Christ as the cornerstone; sometimes we are seen as branches joined with a vine which is Christ; or at other times the faithful are members of a flock of which Christ is the shepherd:-

A building in which Christ is the chief cornerstone, or Christ as the vine, or the shepherd of the flock

The community of faith is like a building; the foundation of the building is Christ and the apostles:

In the period shortly after his death people had cause remember the Psalm which refers to a rejected stone being honoured:

It was a sign used by Christ of himself (Matthew 21:42 [also Mark 12:10 and Luke 20:17])

and it was an image used by Peter in speaking of him to the Jewish court (Acts 4:11 [cf 1 Peter 2:6 and Isaiah 28:16])

It occurs also in the later letter of Peter:

Jesus used a different more dynamic model in the example of the vine:

While the picture of the shepherd caring for the flock brings another dimension:

Which brings to mind the parables in which sheep are cared for.

In all such examples, the various parts of a community, group or body all belong together through their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.

A body which has many limbs and organs with Christ as the head

Perhaps the clearest image of the relationship to Christ which brings out also the relationship of members to each other is to see the body of believers as like the human body, in which the dependence of all members upon Christ in an organic union is expressed in the idea of his being the head of the body:-

The body of which he is the head is one of the means by which God is working out his great design. Those who are members of that body have a part in the work of Christ for the Kingdom. The epistle for today and the earlier part read last week illustrate the same principle in more detail. Paul deliberately expands upon the way the parts, or members, of the body need each other to work together for the common good. The members all need each other; and we are all aware of the great importance of this principle for the life and work of the Church.

These ideas are quite familiar to most members of our congregations, but the spiritual nature of the necessary gifts is not always so well recognised.

The spiritual nature of the gifts

If you think that you or anyone else may not have much to contribute because you or they are not greatly endowed with natural abilities, or riches, or well developed skills, then you have not understood the way it works. In particular, you have not understood what Paul had to say about spiritual things or spiritual gifts. I do not mean that God cannot use the strength of our arms, or our money, or our knowledge; obviously he can, and there are plenty of examples of contributions of that kind being made: Paul even speaks at one point in great enthusiasm of the material sacrifices people had made to support him in the work of the gospel and he devoted a good deal of effort to making a collection for the poor in Jerusalem:

In regard to the poor in Jerusalem, he even saw a fair exchange in the new believers sharing some of their material wealth when they had received a share of their spiritual gifts.

I am not saying that material things are unimportant; nor is it not a matter of choosing between spiritual gifts and natural gifts or possessions. What is important is to see that the body of Christ does not work with all its members acting harmoniously together simply by each member, of their own free will, contributing their natural `gifts' and material possessions -- not by that alone. There is obviously some understanding of this in recognizing that the members belong together through their relationship to Christ the head. That is the key. The gifts of great value we have to share are spiritual gifts just as our relationship with Christ is spiritual.

We need to look more closely at the kind of gifts with which Paul understood the members of the body to be endowed. This chapter begins: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. He goes on to emphasise the essential unity of the body with a three fold repetition of the theme of all the differences which are useful in the functions of the body coming from a single source:

[See appended notes on the meaning of the key words: (1 Cor 12:4-6) NB: gifts [charisma], same Spirit; services [diakonia], same Lord; activities or works [energema], same God. An early trinitarian formulation.]

These spiritual things [pneumatikos] all reveal the same glory: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. [12:7] We have seen before how the signs of the coming of the Kingdom revealed the glory of God in Christ. Now we see how the same kind of manifestation is shown in gifts of the spirit to individual members of the body. These are not the natural possessions or characteristics of individuals; but things added from elsewhere, from the divine source of the Holy Spirit. We are talking about things that are inescapably, necessarily, spiritual: even other worldly:-

It is part of being included in the mystery of God: of knowing, like the apostles, the secrets of the kingdom of God [ref. sermon on Epiphany: The mystery of being included].

The purpose of the gifts

These spiritual gifts enable us to use our natural talents for the purposes of God in the ministries to which God had called us.

So we have such spiritual gifts as spiritual wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, etc.; according to the Spirit.

These gifts enable different functions to be performed in the body, such as preaching, teaching and pastoral care:

Compare:

The gifts of individuals which enable the body to do the work of Christ are gifts of grace: free gifts which he has bestowed upon us.

The gifts are charisma, given according to the grace, charis, that is God's free gift to us. It is the same root from which we have charity - unearned gifts. It is God's work to enable the members of the body working together to do the work of the body.

Implications for action

It is all God's work, so what can we do about it? We can pray for appropriate gifts, and for grace to recognize them in ourselves and in others. It is a major task of the body, of the congregation, or the church at large, to discern and the fully recognize the gifts that God bestows on each one. We need, for example, to be able to see who God is calling to the ministry of the Word, or to the diaconate, or youth ministry, or to be elders, or visitors, or teachers, or to any form of service. It is important not to be prejudiced in this task by thinking in human terms such age, or sex, or worldly wisdom. After all, if people in the time of Jesus' ministry had been thinking in terms of demonstrated natural talents and education, do you think they would have chosen simple fishermen and despised tax collectors or odd political zealots to be the apostles to lead the church? God chose and equipped them.

Remember that the gifts we seek to use are manifestations of the glory of God, freely given, and cannot ever be a matter for pride or jealously, whether they be found in ourselves or in others. We might hope that each will be given spiritual gifts in proportion to their natural abilities like the servants in the parable of the talents: `each in proportion to his ability'; but it is all given according to the wisdom of God and might not be apparent to us until much later. Few of the early followers of Christ were noted for their strength, beauty, wealth, achievement or wisdom. They possessed spiritual gifts. Meanwhile we continue to pray that God will equip people for their particular tasks, as members of the body of Christ.

Above all we need to continually enrich and renew our relationship with God in Christ. It is only through that relationship that spiritual gifts are received and recognized. Then all that we have and are can be used to the glory of God. To him be the glory.

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Notes:

(1 Corinthians 12:1-11) Now concerning spiritual(1) gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. {2} You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. {3} Therefore 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. {4} Now there are varieties of gifts(2), but the same Spirit; {5} and there are varieties of services(3), but the same Lord; {6} and there are varieties of activities(4), but it is the same God who activates(5) all of them in everyone. {7} To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. {8} To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, {9} to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, {10} 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. {11} All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

(1 Cor 12:1) Re gifts, see note on `spiritual' and see note on verse 4.

(1) "SPIRITUAL" 4152. pneumatikos, pnyoo-mat-ik-os'; from G4151; non-carnal, i.e. (humanly) ethereal (as opposed to gross), or (daemoniacally) a spirit (concr.), or (divinely) supernatural, regenerate, religious:--spiritual. Comp. G5591.

(1 Cor 12:4) See notes `spiritual gifts' verse 1 `gifts' this verse, `services' verse 5, `activities' verse 6. NB gifts, same Spirit; services, same Lord; activities or works, same God.

(2) "GIFTS" 5486. charisma, khar'-is-mah; from G5483; a (divine) gratuity, i.e. deliverance (from danger or passion); (spec.) a (spiritual) endowment, i.e. (subj.) religious qualification, or (obj.) miraculous faculty:--(free) gift.

(1 Cor 12:5) See verse 4 and note on `services'.

(3) "SERVICES" 1248. diakonia, dee-ak-on-ee'-ah; from G1249; attendance (as a servant, etc.); fig. (eleemosynary) aid, (official) service (espec. of the Chr. teacher, or techn. of the diaconate):--(ad-) minister (-ing, -tration, -try), office, relief, service (-ing).

(1 Cor 12:6) See note on verse 4 and see `activities' and `activates' in this verse. Energy is work, Phys

(4) "ACTIVITIES" 1755. energema, en-erg'-ay-mah; from G1754; an effect:--operation, working.

(5) "ACTIVATES" 1754. energeo, en-erg-eh'-o; from G1756; to be active, efficient:--do, (be) effectual (fervent), be mighty in, shew forth self, work (effectually in).

(1 Cor 12:11) `one and the same'= heis + autos. `allots to each one' = diairoun idia hekasto: from same root as diversity/various in verse 4, qv. + particular one. .. as he chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1 Corinthians 12:7 . . phanerosis:G5321 . . pneuma:G4151 . didomi:G1325 . hekastos:G1538 eisphero:G1533 . sumphero:G4851 .

5321. phanerosis, fan-er'-o-sis; from G5319; exhibition, i.e. (fig.) expression, (by extens.) a bestowment:--manifestation.

4151. pneuma, pnyoo'-mah; from G4154; a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by anal. or fig. a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by impl.) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, daemon, or (divine) God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit:--ghost, life, spirit (-ual, -ually), mind. Comp. G5590.

1325. didomi, did'-o-mee; a prol. form of a prim. verb (which is used as an altern. in most of the tenses); to give (used in a very wide application, prop. or by impl. lit. or fig.; greatly modified by the connection):--adventure, bestow, bring forth, commit, deliver (up), give, grant, hinder, make, minister, number, offer, have power, put, receive, set, shew, smite (+ with the hand), strike (+ with the palm of the hand), suffer, take, utter, yield.

1 Corinthians 15:44-46 It is sown a physical(1) body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. {45} Thus it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being(2)"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. {46} But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.

(1) "PHYSICAL" 5591. psuchikos, psoo-khee-kos'; from G5590; sensitive, i.e. animate (in distinction on the one hand from G4152, which is the higher or renovated nature; and on the other from G5446, which is the lower or bestial nature):--natural, sensual.NIV etc. natural body cf physical; see also Psyche living body in next verse.

(2) "BEING" living being: zao psuche5590. psuche, psoo-khay'; from G5594; breath, i.e. (by impl.) spirit, abstr. or concr. (the animal sentient principle only; thus distinguished on the one hand from G4151, which is the rational and immortal soul; and on the other from G2222, which is mere vitality, even of plants: these terms thus exactly correspond respectively to the Heb. H5315, H7307 and H2416):--heart (+ -ily), life, mind, soul, + us, + you.]

Matthew 25:15 to one he gave(1) five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability(2). Then he went away.

(Mat 25:15) Talents were given according to abilities q.v. and are not to be confused with abilities. See notes on gifts 1 Cor 12 and Sunday 03C and Charisma file.

(1) "GAVE" didomi: see defn and notes file re charisma + sunday 03C

(2) "ABILITY" 1411. dunamis, doo'-nam-is; from G1410; force (lit. or fig.); spec. miraculous power (usually by impl. a miracle itself):--ability, abundance, meaning, might (-ily, -y, -y deed), (worker of) miracle (-s), power, strength, violence, mighty (wonderful) work.

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