Bible Readings: Jeremiah 1:1-12 & 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

One Spirit

I wonder if anybody knows how many days there are to Christmas? It’s 168 days. We are now closer to next Christmas than we are to last Christmas. Has anybody already started their Christmas shopping? None of those really organised types who get stuff in the Boxing Day and New Year Sales for the following Christmas? Now when it does eventually get to Christmas I wonder how good you are at telling which present is from whom. If the labels all fell off, would you be able to tell who had got you a particular present. Maybe there’s an aunt who knits everybody a new jumper for Christmas. Perhaps grandma always buys a box of Werther’s originals for everybody. If you travel to see family, and put all the presents under the tree together, you can very often still tell which part of the family brought which presents because they’re all in the same wrapping paper. Now I might be pushing this, but I reckon that even though the gifts themselves might be different, they have enough things in common, whether it’s the wrapping paper or a type of gift that it is, or even the way in which it is wrapped, that you’d have a pretty good guess at who brought what.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking about the different gifts that God gives us in the church. Different abilities and talents that God has given us to use in our daily lives, from gifts of teaching and caring for people, to gifts of hospitality, serving people, giving generously. As we’ve been exploring how we might use those gifts and abilities we’ve also been focussing on one of the things that they have in common, and that is that they are all given to be used to build up the church, to encourage each other, to be used together. We still have our person here, our body, made up of all the different pieces, just like our church is made up of all of us, and only works properly when we all do our bit.

This morning we’re thinking about some different gifts that people are given by God, gifts of words of wisdom and knowledge, healing, tongues and interpretation of tongues, discernment of spirits. In the next part of his letter, which we didn’t read this morning Paul goes on to talk about the body again – reinforcing this common theme that all the gifts that God gives us are to be used together, for the good of each other. But there is another theme of unity that Paul wants to emphasise in the bit we did read, and that is in verse 4.

“there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.”

Paul repeats the point at the end, in verse 11

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”

Not only are do the gifts we are given by God share a common destination, the building up of the body, they also have a common source. They are all given by the Holy Spirit.

Think about water for a minute. We see it in all different kinds of places – in streams, in ponds, in rivers, in lakes, coming out of our taps, in fountains, in waterfalls. All different shapes and sounds and speeds and colours, but all, in the end coming from the same place- the sky, and going to the same place – the sea. A common source, a common destination, but looking very different in between.

So it is with the gifts of God – they might look quite different, but they have the same source – the Holy Spirit, and the same destination, the building up of the people of God.

Now it so happens that examples of the gifts of God that Paul lists here are all ones that have had the potential to be divisive since they first were given to the early church. Other gifts not so much – I haven’t heard of Christians disagreeing with each other or falling out about the gifts of encouragement or of teaching, of being a pastor, or of generosity. It has been pretty much agreed since Jesus’ time that these are good things.

The ones that Paul lists in this letter to the Christians in Corinth, however, have been more contentious. In fact, it is fairly clear from the rest of the letter that the reason that Paul includes them here is because the use of them is causing conflict and trouble in the church in Corinth.

It seems to me that the reason for this is that these gifts are ones that are a bit weird. They can only be explained, only make any sense if there is actually a God who does actually communicate personally with people now. They are gifts that actually depend on the living and actual intervention of God in the lives of human beings on a daily basis. If someone claims to have one of these gifts, either God is working powerfully in their lives or they are delusional.

The other gifts aren’t like that so much. Someone can naturally be a good teacher, they can be good at encouraging people, they can have a talent for getting alongside people and caring for them, they can be generous, all naturally. We see these gifts in all kinds of people, Christians and people who aren’t Christian, we can understand them, they don’t actually demand that we confront the possibility that God is here and now working in lives.

But these gifts, – words of knowledge, that is knowing something about a person or situation that you only know because God has spoken it into your mind, gifts of healing – by which someone prays and people are healed of physical, emotional and mental health conditions, speaking in tongues – using languages that you have not learnt to communicate to other people or in private worship, being able to distinguish between spirits – to know supernaturally whether there is an evil spirit at work in a person or a place. These gifts do being us face to face with a God who knows us and is present and active.

It seems to me that this causes conflict for a number of reasons.

The first two are related, in fact they are the flip sides of the same coin. They have opposite effects but are both based on the same misunderstanding.

The misunderstanding is this: These particular gifts are different, they are special, they show God’s power in a particular way – therefore God gives them to people God likes more, or thinks are special, or who are better Christians.

The first problem with this misunderstanding is that those who don’t experience these gifts feel left out. They don’t have the gifts, so they end up believing that they can’t be special, God doesn’t like them very much, and that they’re not proper Christians. That is a really painful thing to believe about yourself, and it can lead people to be angry with those who do enjoy those gifts, to be angry with God, and to lose faith.

The second problem with this misunderstanding is that those who do exercise these gifts can fall into the trap of feeling superior and behaving as if they are “better” or “more mature” Christians. I mean, if I knew that quite often when I prayed for people they recovered, I would feel pretty special. God must really like me to have given me that gift. The risk is that one group of Christians end up looking down on another group of Christians and rather than using their gifts to build up others they allow themselves to become puffed up with pride.

Paul is taking aim at both of these problems when he insists on the unity of the source of all the gifts and the unity of the destination. They all come from the same Spirit, and they are all for building up of the church. Just because you have one gift rather than another does not mean that God loves you any more or any less than anyone else. It does not mean that you are particularly special or not special, it is just that God has given you a particular tool to do a particular task at a particular time, so use it, and don’t make a fuss about it.

The third reason that it seems to me that these gifts cause conflict is one of personality. For those of us who like to be in control, to have rational explanations for things, these gifts are really freaky. I hate roller coasters. I am a complete wimp. Even the little ones that you go on with the kids when they are five make me uncomfortable. The old log flume at Alton Towers when you go up into the shed for the final run down into the splash in the water used to give me the collywobbles. I really hate roller coasters. Mostly because I am not in control, and I hate not being in control.

When I am faced with the reality of God working in people’s lives through these gifts I am faced with the reality that I am not in control of my life.

So, what are we to do. Are we to say that these gifts are more trouble than they are worth. They seem to bring to the surface more problems than they solve. Let’s not risk it. Let’s leave well alone.

That is not what the Bible teaches, that is not what Paul says. In God’s word we are taught to seek the gifts, to ask for them, and then to use them rightly. God is real and present. Will we allow ourselves to release control, to ride the roller coaster, to enjoy the gifts that have been given to others without getting jealous or downhearted, and use the gifts that we have been given with humility and gentleness so that the whole body can be built up?

I wonder if there is a gift that you have always wanted, that desire for has been stirring up in your heart over the last few weeks, or this morning, as we’ve been exploring this. Perhaps you know that God has given you a gift but you’ve not been using it and you know that you need to but can’t see how. Could this morning be the morning that you receive that gift, that you hear how to use it.


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