Sunday, May 1, 2016

Empowered to be the body of Christ and embody Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)... God's Spirited People: the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible and the Church today (Part 5)

I wonder if it’s just a guy thing but I love pocket knives. I had a few when I was a kid and later when my wife Kris’ sister and brother in law went on a trip through Europe they bought me back a black Swiss army knife, customized with my name on it and all these wonderful tools and attachments. It wasn’t as great as the one in the image behind me from an introduction to  EDC pocketknife company , but it had two blades, scissors, screw drivers, bottle openers, tin openers, tweezers and a tooth pick and one of those spikes that are handy for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. I used to take it with me everywhere I went I wasn’t aware that could get you in to trouble, because it’s a tool right not a weapon.
 It was about six months after 9/11 and Kris and I were getting on a flight from Dunedin to Christchurch and I’d forgotten that I’d left it in the bottom of my carry-on luggage ( we had our son Isaac who was a 1 year old with us and our carry luggage was a nappy change bag). AS the bag went through the x-ray machine suddenly I was public enemy number one! “What was this offensive weapon doing in my bag??!!… I was invited to stand up against the wall! Told to put my arms out and was patted down! It was the first time I noticed they had an armed policeman at airport gates these days…suddenly he was there with his hand on his holster! It was the first time I’d ever been through this sort of security and to have this happen… I started freaking out a bit, and didn’t like the way I was being treated, after all this was provincial New Zealand right! This was totally over the top! Fortunately Kris kind of stepped in and calmed me down and we had enough time to run the knife back down to our car before the flight took off.  
There is something wonderful about these great implements that are one unit but have so many different tools that enable you to do many different things. It’s one body but it has a diversity of implements with different uses. I’m sure if Paul had had a pocket knife like that he might have used it to as an example of the one spirit giving different gifts to people for the common good.  Well maybe it is a bit too mechanical an example and Paul was right to use the organic one in our reading this morning

I think Paul as a tent maker might have really liked the versatility and convenience of a pocket knife; all those different tools all together in one place. But I still think even if he had known about pocket knives he would have chosen to use the metaphor of the human body to talk about being the church. Like the human body it’s not a man-made thing, it is God’s creation. When you look at a pocket knife being used the wonder really is in the way the human hand and body works together to make it an effective tool.  The metaphor of the body says the church is not just about mechanical functionality it’s about interdependent relationships. It’s not about simply having a part to play in an organisation, but being a part of a living breathing organism.

We are working our way through passages in the bible that talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: means by which God empowers and enables and equips his people to witness about Jesus Christ, serve, be built up in to maturity in the fullness of Jesus Christ, and that they are ways that God speaks and moves in and through his people. Each of the passages we’ve looked at contains a list of the various gifts given to the church to be used for the common good. In each case the lists are different, they are not designed to be comprehensive or exhaustive, rather give us examples of the great diversity of ways in which God chooses to enable his people by the Holy Spirit. We’ve also seen how each of these passages fit with central and important teaching on how we come together to be God’s Spirited People.

Today we are looking at the second part of 1 Corinthians 12. Remember the big issue in the church at Corinth was divisions and factions. The church was split into different groups, one of the issues or symptoms of those divisions were that at least one group saw the manifestation of Holy Spirit as a sign that they had made it spiritually, they saw the use of the more spectacular gifts and one gift in particular tongues as a sign that they were more spiritual than the other groups. It impacted on the public worship and the life of the church. 

When we looked at the first half of 1 Corinthians 12 last week we saw that Paul’s argument was that there was one God, one Lord, one spirit but that God had given a diversity of gifts to be used for the common good. The list of gifts in that section is used to illustrate that point. In the second half of the passage Paul uses the metaphor of the body to show that while there is a diversity of gifts, because they are given by the same spirit that there is unity.

In the first paragraph he introduces the metaphor of the body. Taking about how the church is a diverse group of people gathered together into Christ.  We are one because we have been baptised by the same Holy Spirit and it is the same Holy Spirit that nurtures and quenches our spiritual thirst. The church at Corinth was made up as Paul says here from across ethnic and religious and socio-economic divides: Gentile and Jew, slave and free. Corinth was very much like our modern cities was very diverse and part of the witness of the church is for this diverse group of people to show unity. Or as Craig Blomberg puts it ”Church should be a place where people gather and get along with each other who have no merely human reason for doing so.”

Paul applies the metaphor of the body to say that unity is not uniformity it is not simply that we belong to the body if we are the same part, have the same gift.  It’s not a matter of that the ‘eyes have it’, or the feet, or the nose for that matter. But each part has been given by God so that the whole can function properly.

The church like the body is not all independent parts that can do without the other parts but rather we are interdependent, we need each other to function and grow, so we can all function and grow.  In fact some of the parts of the body which we don’t hold as highly valuable are the most important some of the ones that are not visible are essential…

The church being like a body means that we care for each member not I couldn't care less because it's all about me …in a body when one part suffers the whole body suffers, I’ve been fighting off a cold over the past few weeks and I can testify to that, when one part does well the rest of the body benefits.  For example exercising releases endorphins to the whole system and make it feel good. 

Then Paul moves on to give us another list of spiritual gifts. This list combines a lot of the different kinds of gifts we have been looking at. Ministry gifts to build up the church, serving gifts and also the spectacular gifts that seemed to be at the heart of the problem in Corinth. All these things are given by God so that the body of Christ can function, each is equally important. Be it very visible and spectacular or mundane and often unseen.  Be it what we might see as a natural ability or a spiritual manifestation.

It seems strange that Paul would start his list by say ‘first of all apostles’, he’d just finished talking of the egalitarian nature of the gifts and now he starts ranking them. But this is not in terms of importance or status but rather that the ministry gifts Paul mentions first apostleship, prophecy and teaching are the things that the church is founded on they come first and lay the foundations. The foundation for the body of Christ is the word of God, or as Paul says earlier in this letter that the foundation the church is built on is the Christ and Christ crucified. Churches and in particular cathedrals used to be built in the shape of a cross to remind us of that.

First apostles: Again Apostles with a capital “A’ refers to those who were witness to Jesus ministry and his resurrection. They are the ones who have passed the gospel on to us.  They are the ones who laid the foundation of Christ and Christ crucified.  But also with a small ‘a’ they can refer to church planters and pioneer missionaries who bought the gospel to a new place.  Paul had to remind the church at Corinth that he had done hat in their city and so had a right to speak to them about what was going on and going wrong.

Second prophets: Prophets are those who take the timeless word of God and bring it to people in a timely manner. They take the gospel truth and apply it to the here and now. It can refer to inspired preaching, or it can mean an inspired message for a community, or group of believers or an individual.   An example of that in Acts 21 is Agabus who binds Paul’s hands before he goes up to Jerusalem letting him know what will happen. The church sees it as a warning for Paul not to go, but Paul sees it as an affirmation that this will happen and not to fear as it is God who is in control.

Then teachers, once again teaching comes in the list because it is a ministry of the word, helping people know the gospel, explaining it so that people will be able to apply it to their lives: Both adult education and also passing it on to new generations.

Then miracles and gifts of healings: Paul moves from more ministry gifts to spectacular again. We have God speaking to and through his people and now we have God moving in power though his people. We are comfortable with the proclamation of God’s word and the gospel and even in the miracle of conversion and transformation in people’s lives, but here we see God showing by works of power that the gospel is true. God loves us and has conquered sin and its consequences, God can heal and bring wholeness, God can deliver and set free.

Gifts of helping and of guidance, Paul moves seamlessly from talking of the miraculous to what seems more mundane and ordinary and back again, Helping and guidance are gifts that are not often in the limelight. Helping has the idea of service and working to sees things work, nuts and bolts people.  ‘guidance’ comes from a word that means piloting a boat and is about people who have the skills and abilities to lead a ministry or church. I’ve been watch a series of video conversations called ‘God at work’ about being a Christian in the work place. It features  Ken Costa who has been in investment banking for over forty years, Costa’s skills in the area of business and finance mean he has made a great contribution to his church leadership and also in heading up the whole Alpha International board. That is his gifting in business and ministry .

Then it moves on to all kinds of tongues. Again this comes last not because it is unimportant, but because it was the problem gift in Corinth and Paul puts it last to accentuate for people there are other gifts. Later Paul will talk of using this gift a lot himself.  I use this gift in my devotional life quite often, simply praying in tongues, I was prayed for to receive the Holy Spirit and it as a gift that was given to me, I’ve prayed for people in some situations and had them tell me they have understood what I’ve prayed because they understand it, it’s their mother tongue.

Again the list is not exhaustive, but is designed to illustrate the great variety of gifts. In the church today there are two extremes when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those who say that the more spectacular gifts are not for the church today and who only value or accept the more natural gifts and those who have rediscovered the more spectacular spiritual gifts and so focus on them, even to the point that classical Pentecostal doctrine used to say everyone who has the Holy Spirit needed to speak in tongues. But this list says to both extremes that they limit God too much.  Both are expressions of the enabling and empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. Both are needed.

Paul finishes his list with some rhetorical questions, He asks if everyone has each of these gifts, do all prophesy? Do all speak in tongues? Do all heal? So he is driving home the point that we are all needed to be the body of Christ and to embody Christ in the world. There is no such thing as the ‘lone ranger’ Christian coming to save the day. Even then the lone ranger had Tonto.

Paul also says that we should seek the greater gifts , it’s not that we should be wanting to be more and more powerful or important, it’s not like some sort of cosmic video game where we  get a bigger and bigger inventory to get us to and through the next level . But that we can be of more service and use to the whole body of Christ.  It challenges us to seek the gifts we see the least in the church in the western world because they are the ones we may need the most, we need to rediscover the gift of evangelism and the gifts that can be seen as ‘power evangelism’. In the news sheet this week is a list of three websites with good spiritual gift tests as a starting point for you to think about what gift you have.

Finally Paul says he will show them a better way, and this leads into the next chapter where he speaks of the importance of love, of loving one another. To the church in Corinth and to the church today this is the greatest gift we can receive for the Holy Spirit, love for one another, this is the only context for the use of spiritual gifts. It is love for each other that is the sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our midst, love and its characteristics that are the fruit of walking with the Spirit. Gifts enable that love and equip us to serve in love, and empower us to share the love and compassion of Jesus Christ with each other  and the world God loved so much that he sent his only Son.

Once again it was school holidays so I again used sermon bingo with the chidren...

Thanks also to the website jigsaw planet for the wonderful app that makes images into jigsaws... It was a real help to my limited crativity... If you want to put together the image of St peter's Church here is the link.

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