Preached: January 20, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God through which the Holy Spirit brings us his gifts is 1 Corinthians 12
Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, we don't want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were led away to speechless idol in whatever way it happened. Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by God's Spirit says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There's a variety of gracious gifts, but the same Spirit. There's a variety of services, but the same Lord. There's a variety of activities, but the same God who works all things in all ways.
Now to each one the Spirit makes his gifts apparent for the common good. To one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit; to another, the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit. To someone else faith is given in the same Spirit; to another, gifts of healing in the one Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discernment between spirits. To someone else different kinds of languages are given; to another, the interpretation of languages. But the one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each person properly, just as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
How many Christmas gifts already lie broken or forgotten? That must-have toy sits buried at the bottom of a toy box. The new shirt is crumpled in the laundry with a stain that may not come out. That latest electronic device already feels a little slow and out-of-date. So many gifts don't live up to their advertising.
How different the Holy Spirit is and the gifts he distributes! Let's ponder that this morning as the Holy Spirit himself speaks to us through the words he gave the Apostle Paul to write. For you see, dear Christian friends, you are God's gifted people. That's the theme today. Why are you his gifted people? First of all, you each have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one, essential gift. The Apostle brings this to our attention in the first three verses. But the Holy Spirit doesn't stop there. He distributes other gifts to you as he knows best, which is the second part today.
The Apostle writes, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Corinthians 12:1 NIV84). He's beginning a new section in his letter. Through these written words he's going to make known God's truth about spiritual gifts, so that the Christians in Corinth and we today don't remain ignorant and uninformed. And it has to be that way, doesn't it? Since these are spiritual things, our physical eyes and natural minds could never figure them out. We'd only run after what looked spectacular or sounded miraculous. If we're going to know them, God's word must reveal the spiritual and tell us what's most important. So the Apostle directs our attention first of all to the greatest gift the Holy Spirit gives.
He does so by reminded us of what we were without the Spirit. “You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols” (1 Corinthians 12:2 NIV). Those without the Holy Spirit may claim to have spiritual knowledge because of some dream in the night, some whisper in the heart, or some insight from meditation. But the true God is not a mute idol. He speaks to us through the words of the Scriptures, not through the imaginations of the mind. Any claims of spiritual wisdom beyond God's Word are empty mirages of speechless idols, like what the pagans followed.
Now when the Holy Spirit came to us through God's word, what great change did he work in us? What great gift did his presence bring? The Apostle tells us: “Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV84).
That, dear Christian, is the greatest gift the Holy Spirit has given you. That's what it means to have the Holy Spirit living in you. This is that gift of the Spirit: To know Jesus as your Lord and so believe in him and confess him. That's why you are God's people, his gifted people.
I could never have talked myself into believing in Jesus. No one could have convinced me of that. To my natural mind it was all foolishness and weakness. A man named Jesus who's God -- foolishness! An accused criminal's crucifixion saving me -- what weakness! And so also, your heart too was set against God. Without the Holy Spirit no one can confess from their heart Jesus as Lord.
But through God's word connected with water in Baptism, through God's word written in ink and proclaimed for you to hear, the Holy Spirit has changed your heart. You are one of God's gifted people. For through God's word the Spirit testifies concerning Jesus. What does his testimony reveal? He testifies that Jesus is the Lord, the unchanging, merciful God who freely makes his gracious promises and faithfully keeps them. And he testifies that Jesus is your Lord and my Lord. For Jesus has redeemed you to be his own. He has redeemed you with his holy, precious blood. He has redeemed you from the power of sin, Satan, and death. He has redeemed you to live under him in his kingdom and serve him. He is your Lord and you are his blood-bought, ransomed, redeemed people.
Since the Holy Spirit has convinced you of this truth so that you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit must certainly be living in you. For “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV84). “I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel” (Luther's explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles' Creed). The Spirit has given himself to you and along with himself has brought you to truly know Jesus as the Lord who has redeemed you. What a gift! You are indeed God's gifted people.
So give thanks to God, dear Christians, for you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. You are God's gifted people. For your heart and mouth confess that Jesus is your Lord. The world thinks little of this gift. But what a wonder and miracle that the Holy Spirit has brought you from darkness to light, from death to life, from damnation to salvation. You are God's gifted people.
Give thanks to God by continuing to hear and believe his word. For through the Gospel, recorded in the Scriptures and received in the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit continues to live in you so that you confess Jesus as your Lord in all that you say and do. Our God not a mute idol. He is the God who speaks through his Word, the Bible. Listen to him.
Now our God is so rich in grace and mercy, that the Holy Spirit not only brings you this one, greatest gift. We are God's gifted people also because the Holy Spirit distributes others gifts to you and me as he knows best, which brings us to part two.
As the Apostle continues, he now speaks of spiritual gifts in general. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NIV84).
What do we learn from these verse? First of all, there are many different kinds of gifts that are distributed, so we should not expect to have exactly the same gifts as other Christians. The Spirit's gifts vary over time, place, and persons. He distributes them where and when he chooses as he knows best. So don't let the lack of a certain gift lead you to doubt whether you are one of God's gifted people. Rather trust that the Holy Spirit knows what he is doing. For although different gifts are distributed, they come from the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit. In fact, they don't only come from the Holy Spirit, they come from the Lord Jesus and God the Father, as these verse say.
In these verse, we also have three different names for what the Holy Spirit distributes. Paul refers to them as “gifts,” which is the translation of the Greek word χαρισματων. This word has the same root as the Greek word for grace χαρις. This name teaches us that these are unearned, unmerited gifts, nothing for us to take pride in or boast about as if we deserved them. Next he calls them “service.” The Holy Spirit gives them to us so that we use them to serve others, to help and be a benefit to others drawing them to our Lord Jesus Christ. And finally, he calls them “working.” The Holy Spirit gives us these gifts for us to put into action and use. And yet it is God himself who is active, working his desired results, powerfully and effectively.
Never loose sight of those thoughts as you think about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes. With those three verses the Apostle shows the god-pleasing attitude and mindset for us to imitate as we remember that we are God's gifted people: 1) Proper humility that sees these gifts as undeserved and gracious, so don't feel superior or inferior because you have or lack a certain gift -- the Holy Spirit knows best how to allot them. 2) Proper use as we use them to serve others in love, that Christian love that serve others even as Christ served us. 3) Proper boldness, confidence, and courage that actively and energetically uses these gifts but relies on God to accomplish his purpose and not on our efforts. It's his working through us.
Next the Apostle gives some examples. He begins with the message of wisdom and the message of knowledge. These gifts start the list because they involve God's message, his word. What blessing to be able to understand, explain, apply, and share his word with wisdom and knowledge! For that is how the Holy Spirit comes to others, through the message of the Gospel, which bring us Jesus, who is the wisdom of God.
Next he mentions the kind of faith that faces any danger trusting in the word of our Lord and that dares to do great things for our God relying on his promise alone.
Gifts of healing, as well as miraculous powers, were seen in the Apostles. Before the New Testament was fully written, Jesus led the Apostles to do miracles to establish that their message was from God. Now that we have the New Testament as well as the Old, we search all the Scriptures to verify whether a message is from God. For the devil can display all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders to deceive and lead us away from God, as the Apostle Paul warns us in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
The gift of prophecy means to speak a message from God. Sometimes that message foretells the future. But a prophet also continues to tell forth what God has already revealed in his Word, whether that's about the past, present, or future.
The gift of distinguishing spirits is the ability to tell whether a spiritual message is God's truth or the devil's deception. How important in our day with so many religious people claim to speak for God! Only by comparing what a spiritual teacher says with what the Bible says can we correctly distinguish the Holy Spirit from false spirits.
We saw the gift of speaking in tongues displayed by the disciples on Pentecost. They spoke the wonders of God in the different native languages of those gathered in Jerusalem from many different regions. Still today the wonders of God are declared in many different languages. Ever consider what a miracle it is that God's truth, which is so contrary to our human way of thinking, can be translated to cross any language barrier? Even if such a gift of language comes after long years of studying, it is still the Holy Spirit's gift when the Christian uses it to share the wonders of our God.
And these are just some examples of spiritual gifts. Romans 12 gives other examples. There Paul lists: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership, and showing mercy. What a diversity of gifts the Holy Spirit distributes!
And finally, don't worry about whether you have a particular gift or not. Don't let the lack of gift make you wonder whether you are one of God's gifted people. For the Holy Spirit decides how best to distribute his gifts. “All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11 NIV84). Although there are many gifts, they come from the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit. You are his gifted people. For he not only distributes these other gifts to you as he knows best, but above all he has given you the greatest gift, so that you confess Jesus as your Lord. That's the Christmas gift we never want to lose or forget. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.