Monday, April 25, 2016

Empowered for God to Speak And Move In And Through His Spirited People... (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) : God's Spirited People: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible and the Church today (Part 4)

Stain glass art is a great metaphor for us being built together as the body of Christ. The image behind me is of the window in our foyer with the picture of Jesus the good shepherd. It is built up of etched and coloured glass put together. In and of themselves each piece wouldn’t really be much, just a weird shaped piece of glass maybe something you’d think that was broken and only fit to be discarded or dangerous. But put in the right place by the artist it is transformed and plays it part in showing us a picture and telling us a story. In fact we get the word story for the floors in a building in English from the number of stories in panels in the stain glass windows in cathedrals, they were said to be so many stories high. The windows come alive the vibrancy of the colour and the way the work together comes alive as the light shines through them.  That light, shining through different and diverse pieces of glass, give us, in this case, a picture of Jesus Christ. We too are the body of Christ, with diverse and different gifts with a place to belong and a part to play, that as the same spirit shines and moves through each of us together embodies Christ to the world.

We are working our way through scriptures looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible and how they apply to the church today. We’ve seen that they are the means by which God empowers, enables and equips his church to witness, to serve, and to be built up into maturity in the fullness of Christ. We’ve seen each of the passages has a list of gifts and each list is different, they are examples not exhaustive:  individually or all together they don’t give the whole picture. Each must be looked at in the context they are given and as part of the wider teaching of the scripture on how we are to be God’s Spirited people. That’s what we are doing in this series.

In 1 Corinthians twelve there are two lists of gift of the Holy Spirit, so we are going to look at this chapter over two weeks. Paul does not use the word gifts of the Holy Spirit in this passage he uses the word manifestations, Paul deals with the more spectacular, Gifts of the Spirit in this section because that is what the church at Corinth is having issues with.

Paul starts his letter by dealing with the key issue at Corinth that it is a church split into many different factions… Paul starts his letter by giving them reason to be one people together. Then in the second half of his letter he deals with questions they had written asking him, questions about the issues that were at the core of their division. 1 Corinthians 12-14 form Paul’s response to certain issues to do with public worship. It seems one or all the factions saw the manifestations of the Spirit as being a sign that they were more spiritual than the other group, it proved they were right, in particular the use of one gift, that of speaking in tongues.. In Corinth it seems that worship was rather chaotic with people using speaking in tongues willy-nilly and all the time, as a badge of their spirituality. Paul addresses this in three ways. In chapter 12 with teaching on being the body of Christ, in chapter 13 in one of the most loved passages in scripture focuses on the importance of love and finally gives some solid teaching on the use of gifts, mainly prophecy and tongues in public worship.  It’s interesting how somethings don’t change and as the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have rediscovered the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our day that these same issues should to come to the fore as well. The manifestation of the Spirit is a sign of being spiritually superior and the emphasis on speaking in tongues.

In the section we are looking at Paul starts by saying he does not want the Corinthians to be misinformed about the gifts of Holy Spirit. This was a challenge to the people in Corinth who thought they had come to maturity and had made it spiritually because of the manifestations of the spirit in their midst.  Paul goes on to say that there understanding had more to do with their pagan past rather than Christian understanding. They used to worship idols of stone and wood who could not communicate with them. Whereas we serve a living God who wants to speak to and through his people, an active God, who wants to move in and through his people.  In idol worship, there would be certain manifestations; maybe people babbling in what seemed to be foreign languages, people giving strange oracles. Usually these were the result of worshippers getting into a trance like state vis drug use or extatic dance. But Paul tells them that it is not the actual manifestations that are important but their intelligible Christian content. In a very Jewish way of thinking he tells them how to test these manifestations.  If they are from the Holy Spirit they will bring glory to Jesus. No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit, it’s not just the words like you were listening to a message to get the key to the code, but rather it is that they fitted with the very radical declaration that Jesus reigns. It calls us not just to look at what is spoken but the life lived by the person speaking as well, are they about the kingdom of God.  On the flipside no one speaking by the Holy Spirit would say ‘Jesus be cursed’, that is utterances or manifestations that  do not glorify Jesus are not from the Holy Spirit, they are either from the person themselves, or as Paul had said previously in his letter they are of demonic origin.

Even in the world today we need to be aware that there are counterfeit spiritual experiences. We are more used in things of the more spectacular spiritual things to do with the occult. People look to horoscopes for guidance, they might think a medium can give them advice and answers, where scripture says why bother trying to communicate with the dead when we have a living and active and communicative God.  They may consult cards, crystals; these things are simply mute idols. There are cults based round a gifted leaders who manifests spiritual gifts but when thee content is tested points more to their own glorification that focusing on the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ.

Then Paul in a very early Trinitarian formula moves to deal with the diversity of gifts, not just the prominence of one gift. The same spirit gives different kinds of gifts, there are different kinds of services but the one Lord, and different kinds of works but one God at work in them all. The word biodiversity is important at the moment, and I think that great diversity of flora and fauna shows the creativity of the one creator, the word and the spirit involved in that creation, so it is with God’s people he moves and speaks to and through us with a great diversity of ways.

Before giving a list of these things, Paul reaffirms that the manifestations are not given to a person to show they are spiritual or have arrived, but rather are there for them to serve, they are given for the common good. Let’s have a look at these gifts…

Words or messages of Wisdom: Earlier in his letter paul had talked of the wisdom of God shown in the cross being foolishness to the world. So there is an idea here of true wisdom being messages and words that draw us back to Christ and his death on the cross. In the opening chapter of Joshua, Joshua becomes the leaders of Israel and is said to have a spirit of wisdom.  It’s interesting that when the people pledge allegiance to Joshua as their commander in chief they says they will follow him but call him to focus and meditate and  be led by the word of God. That was where his words of wisdom would come from.

Closely related to that is Words or messages of Knowledge, that the spirit reveals knowledge to people that they would not otherwise know,  knowledge to help minister to other people’s lives. If you read through Paul’s shipwreck in the book of Acts Paul seems to have knowledge that comes from God, about not sailing and also about how to make sure everyone gets safely off the boat.  Jim Wallace tells the story of speaking to a man at a party about Christ, the man said he didn’t need Christ because his whole life was all together, Jim was rather taken aback a he sensed God say to him “ask him why he sleeps with a gun under his pillow?” which Jim did and the man turned white and started opening up about what was really going on in his life and became a Christian

To another Faith! This is hard for us because we are aware that all of us need saving faith; trust in what Jesus had done for us, but it is linked together in this list with healings and miracles. So it speaks of a spirit inspired faith to trust God in a particular situation. We might mistake this with a sort of hyping ourselves up, but in scripture faith seems to be the steady calm assurance of God’s presence and activity.

Healings by the one Spirit: that God heals. It’s interesting to see that the word used here is plural and that it may refer to gifts of the spirit being given to definite situations and a specific person. It also leaves God’s healing open to be both by supernatural means and a gifted medical person as well.  WE often wrestle with this one and the next which is miraculous power, but Gordon Fee comments historically it is “Only among intellectuals and in a ‘scientific age’ is it thought to be too hard for God to heal people.”

Miraculous Powers, is one I must admit I find the hardest to define, but refers to other things that Jesus and the apostles did alongside healing. It may refer to such things as deliverances. I’m not advocating the old’ Appalachians  snake handling as part of worship, but an example from scripture would be Paul in Acts 20 being bitten by a snake and not dying, which had an effect of leading to the evangelisation of the people of Malta.

Prophecy, this gift tends to be in all the lists of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in this case Paul wants to highlight it and come back to speak about it. But it is the telling forth of God’s word, taking the timeless word of God and in an intelligible way making it timely.  You know that sometimes a verse in scripture will hit home to what is going on in your life. Or a speaker or someone will share something and it is spot on right for you, as if God himself as speaking to you. One night in church a man stopped me on the way out and said he believed God was calling me to go to Bible College, that was the furthest thing from my mind, but it started me thinking about it and praying about it and it was an important step in my call to ministry. Plus it’s where I meet Kris, added bonus.

Distinguishing between Spirits, what we might call discernment. It’s interesting that this comes right after prophecy, because the congregation is to weigh everything that is said to see if it is from God and so this is a gift that goes along with prophecy, being able to discern or know if it from God or just human thought or from another spiritual source.

Finally Paul adds speaking in tongues and their interpretation. He places tongues last and with the added gift of interpretation because this was the problem gift for Corinth and by putting it last he is stressing that it is one amongst many gifts given by the same Spirit. Tongues is giving a message or praying in a language that is unknown to you. At Pentecost it was used as a sign that the gospel was for the whole world, everyone heard the good news proclaimed in their own language.  In and of itself it is a language to communicate between a person and God, but used in public worship it needs to be interpreted to be seen as God communicating. The first time I ever heard tongues being used in church was in an evening service in Titirangi Presbyterian Church. It was done in a very Presbyterian manner. We had a time in the worship service set aside for people to share back what God had been saying. One elder said they believed God had given them a message in tongues and gave it. Then on the other side of the church another elder gave a message in English. The minister at the front asked the person who had spoken in tongues if they thought it was the interpretation and they confirmed it. Then the wife of a third elder spoke up that she could also confirm it because she had spent a few years teaching in Tonga, and while it wasn’t Tongan it had a definite pacific feel to it and she recognised certain words that appeared in the translation in the place she would expect. It caught our attention and was a profound way for God to speak to us as a congregation.

Paul finishes this section by reaffirming that all these gifts are different but come from the same Holy Spirit for the common good.
I want to finish by saying we too are like the church in Corinth, we should not be misinformed about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can often find our understanding or feelings about these more spectacular manifestations of the spirit from our materialistic scientific western worldview, where we do not leave room for God to move in ways that sit outside our ability to quantify and define and explain in terms of the natural…  We are prone to write them off as emotionalism or fake or simply weird But we serve a living active God not a dumb idol, not a God that we need for the ever diminishing gap of human knowledge, a God who wants to move through and to his people by the Holy Spirit, who wants to speak to and through his spirited people… Gordon fee laments “perhaps the greatest tragedy for the church is that it should have lost such touch with the Spirit of God in its ongoing life that it should settle for the ordinary… The hope of course lies that the one and Same Spirit will do as he pleases, despite the boxes provided for him.”

ONce again it was school holidays at St Peter's and our Children were in during the service. To helpthem to keep engauges=d with the message this week I used a twenty questions format. inviting anyone who wanted too to follow me through the message by answering these simple questions... There was a prize for everyone who did...even if they missed a couple of answers.

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