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Monday 6 March 2023

Gifted To Serve


You can watch the video of this sermon here.


Last week we looked at the noble task of Eldership. We examined what Paul wants in an elder and we saw that he wants a family man, with one wife, who manages his household well, carries himself with nobility, and has a good reputation. We looked at that passage in some detail, and if you missed it I recommend you go back over it and meditate on the passage 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and last week’s sermon, and wrestle with the issues in it. We want to be as diligent as possible in the elders and deacons that we put in place. The qualifications of deacons are not quite as strict as that of elders, but they are still an important role and task.

But a church does not just need active elders and deacons, we need much more than this. We also need the whole body working together in its various roles, empowered by the Holy Spirit and utilizing the gifts that he gives to each and every believer. God has designed the Church to be a community where every member puts in and every member helps encourage and sharpen the others. And the Holy Spirit supernaturally gifts every believer with gifts to be able to serve in different ministries.

So, what I want to do for the next few weeks is examine the gifts of the Spirit from the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14, and other passages, and seek to wrestle with what the Scriptures say about how we should serve in the body of Christ. I want to encourage you to think about how you can serve, and also rethink about how you are currently serving, and reflect on what the Scriptures say about this.

God gifts every believer to serve in a different way, and so let’s examine what Paul says about the Spiritual gifts in this famous passage, 1 Corinthians 12,  

Concerning Spiritual Gifts (vv. 1-3) – Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the most powerful explorations of pastoral frustration and passion and care, all rolled into one in the New Testament. You can tell he really loves the Corinthians, and has put a lot of time and care into their congregation, but you can also see his anger at the many things they are getting wrong. 1 Corinthians is a series of passages challenging them and encouraging them about these things. He is definitely not fully happy with how they are handling spiritual gifts,

“1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.”

Paul wants these believers to have the right information. They would have had a lot of knowledge of the Spiritual world, because they were forged in a world that did not deny Spiritual power, but rather sought after it and chased it, “2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.”

These people knew that the spirits were real and chased their power.

The Bible does two things when it discusses idols, it mocks them as stupid, dumb statues, that someone would be foolish to worship, such as here. And it also says that they are representative of demons,

“20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:20-21).

These twin realities are both true. Worshipping a golden statue that cannot speak, hold stuff up, or do anything is silly. My favourite way the Bible makes fun of idols is when Jacob leaves Laban with Rachel and Leah, Rachel steals the family idols, and to stop from getting caught she pretends it is her time of the month and sits on the idols to keep them hidden.

Think of all the funny ways this passage disrespects the idols of Laban’s household: they are stolen, hidden, sat on by a woman, and cannot even cry out when their worshipper is right next to them.

Today, this act would probably break a few different hate crime laws if you did this to a particular culture’s religious artifact. In fact, it was breaking several laws in Rachel’s day.

But idols weren’t always just statues. There were also demonic forces at play that would sometimes reveal themselves in power and with great displays. Most of the ancients really believed in this stuff as well.

When you watch modern movies or shows about the Greeks and Romans, you will see they often present the characters as basically agnostic or atheistic, without much real belief in the gods. They often scorn the concepts of belief and gods. They present them like modern atheists, because modern people cannot imagine a civilised people believing in idols.

But they were not like this in real life. The Romans would examine the omens and chicken entrails before going to battle, for example. They were suspicious of people who questioned the existence of gods, and thought atheism was a mental illness.

So, these Corinthians had very likely had Spiritual experiences that would have seemed divine. Ancient people were not stupid, in many ways they were more intelligent than modern people. They didn’t just think wood was an idol, they knew it represented powerful beings, that were sometimes observed.  

In other words, demons are capable of doing signs and wonders, and therefore Paul wants to warn them how to discern the spirits.

It is important that they are not uninformed, because they had already been deceived by spirits before.

Therefore, he warns them, “I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” In other words, when it comes to evaluating Spiritual giftedness, it is not how powerful or gifted a person is, but who they glorify from their heart that makes all the difference.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that someone can say, and mean it, that Jesus is Lord.

If they are cursing Jesus, no matter how powerful they appear to be, or how knowledgeable they are on spiritual matters, they are influenced by another spirit that is not of God.

This test is so powerful, that some people use it to identify witches and demonically influenced people, by asking them to confess that Jesus is Lord.

Remember the role of the Holy Spirit is to testify to and glorify Jesus, John 16:14 –

“13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

So, Paul is making sure that the Corinthians, and we, know that when it comes to “spiritual things” or “spiritual gifts” that we know that to glorify and lift up Jesus is the most important thing. The Holy Spirit, who is a full-fledged member of the trinity and is God, is given to us to direct us towards Jesus, and others towards Jesus.

It is important for this to be central in your understanding of spiritual gifts: spiritual gifts are not for our own glory, our own position, our own promotion, our own ambitions, they are primarily a gift of the Holy Spirit to help us glorify Jesus, just as God intends.

For The Common Good (vv.4-7) – Because they are given to us to glorify Jesus, then it makes sense that God wants us to use them for the common good. They are, essentially a way for people to love each other in the Church. Paul tells us,

“4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

There are only a few passages in the Bible which directly deal with Spiritual gifts, and if you read them you will notice that they all place the concept of spiritual gifts in the context of loving one another.

The two largest chapters on Spiritual gifts in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 are placed right beside this: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 –

“13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful passage, that is used to talk about love at weddings and other contexts. And it has great applications in those contexts. If you base your marriage on the principles of 1 Corinthians 13 you are not going to go wrong.

But the passage is firstly about what our perspective on Spiritual gifts should be. They are given to us so that we may love one another, as we are meant to.

Indeed, at the end of talking about the importance of gifts, in 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul says this, “31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” The way of loving one another and serving one another is the most important one.

Romans 12:3-8 talks about Spiritual gifts, and straight after says this, Romans 12:9-10 - “9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” It is a shame that some Bibles split off what verse 9 says from the discussion about Spiritual gifts, because they are intricately connected.

Ephesians 4 is another powerful passage about Spiritual gifts, it teaches about the 5 fold ministry, and it begins like this: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,…”

A few verses later it tells us why God gives Apostles, prophets, evangelists pastors and teachers. But Paul centres the discussion of using our gifts again in the context of love. “15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,…”

Peter does the same thing, 1 Peter 4:8-11 –

“8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Love one another, serve one other, this is what gifts are for, and note to also glorify God, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

When the Bible repeats itself, and this consistently, it is because it really wants the message to sink in: gifts exist for the glory of God and so we may love one another, not glorify ourselves and seek our own position.

Whenever I have preached on this in the past, I have had people get this and understand this and seek to apply. And then I have had others get disappointed because I took the emphasis away from the spectacular aspects of the gifts. But we will get to that eventually.

As humans we tend to love really cool, amazing things, and I get this. But the Bible goes out of its way to make sure that you and I know, that the underlying basis of spiritual gifts is something to glorify God and love one another.

This means it is good to seek them, as Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).

But we must be seeking them in the right way, and seeking to use the, in the right way.

The Corinthians were not getting this right, and so Paul has to correct them. Which leads to an interesting observation: people can use God given gifts in a sinful way, this does not mean they are not saved, or gifted, but they will do damage, and diminish themselves and harm the church in the process. So, godliness and character must always come before Spiritual gifts.  

Note how the entire trinity is involved in this process, there is one Spirit, one Lord and the same God who empowers these gifts in all of us. The Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God the father. Some may take this passage differently, but I think this is the simplest reading of the text.

Spiritual gifts are a supernatural working of the power of the Spirit of God in you.

New-agers like to say that we all have a spark of the divine in us. That we are all little gods. But this is a corruption of the biblical idea that God dwells in reality in all of his people, in all of his believers. Jesus dwells in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In many ways this changes our lives.

There are many gifts (vv.4-7) – The last thing I want us to observe today, is that there are many gifts, and they are varied,

“4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

We will start to go through the actual gifts next week, but before we do, we need to recognize that there are many different gifts.

Paul mentions a list here, and again in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, and Peter mentions a list in 1 Peter 4. Let’s read the lists,

1 Corinthians 12:8-10 –

“8 For 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 ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”

Romans 12:6-8 –

“6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Ephesians 4:11-12 – “11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,…”

1 Peter 4:10 – “10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—"

What do you notice about all these lists? They agree in the emphasis of gifts, they all overlap, but they are all different. They are not all the same.

One way to read this is that these lists are not exhaustive. There may be other gifts not on these lists.

For example, dream interpretation is not on any of the lists, but we see it in several passages of the Bible. However, this might just be another version of the gift of prophecy? Or discernment maybe?

What about music ability? Ephesians 5 says that we should be filled with the Spirit and address one another with songs, ergo you could conclude from this that there is a gift of song writing, or music, or both.

Or you could just say that whatever other gifts exist, they are found under the heading, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…” “Gifts of service” could be a catchall term.

Personally, I just think the gifts are not exhaustive, because the Spirit can gift as he sees fit for the given context. This is up to God, not us, and this is why the lists are all different.

Whichever way you go though, the New Testament emphasizes that there are many gifts, and every believer is gifted by the Spirit in some way, “7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

If every believer is given a manifestation of the Spirt for the common good, then this means you do not need to be baptized again by the Spirit to be gifted. This is a gift given to all believers.

Baptism of the Spirit is how we become Christians, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 –

“12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are Baptized in the Spirit. You don’t need to wait for some second blessing to receive spiritual gifts.

God does fill people with the Spirit for certain circumstances, for example, Luke 12:11-12 - “11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

But this is different to needing a second baptism of the Spirit.

This is a matter of God equipping you for certain situations.

But you are all gifted to serve, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and you all have been gifted differently, and the church is at its healthiest when every believer is serving in their capacity.

So how do we apply this?

Application - To apply this, we need to encourage everyone to serve with their gifts. So how do you determine what your gifts are?

Firstly, serve in a ministry context. It can be children’s ministry, youth group, men’s ministry, sound desk, music ministry, wherever.

When I first started to serve in my first Church I was discipled in, I just got their early and helped set up. No one asked me, I just did it.

I then started to share with people what I was reading in the Bible. Over time people saw this and encouraged me in this. And things developed from there.

I don’t recommend doing a Spiritual gift/personality test, to work out your gifts. Just serve and see what develops.

Listen to other people, who comment and encourage you in your gifts. The Spirit of God is in your Christian brothers and sisters too, they will help you discern your areas of gifting.

Seek the Lord and ask him to empower you to serve and see what he does.

Conclusion – We are all gifted to serve. But let’s do it all to the glory of God. Let me encourage you to seek to put this sermon into practice. Let’s all seek to use our gifts as God intends. Let’s pray.

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