Michael Barrett continues our series about “Caring Church” with a reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.
Caring for Our Church Community
Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
by Michael Barrett
How should we care for our Church Community? This morning Paul instructs us that one of the best ways to do so is by using our God-given spiritual gifts. Yet, well we might ask, am I gifted? Do I have anything of value to contribute to the Congregational Church of Northridge? What do I have to bring? What are spiritual gifts and what are mine?
Paul assures us in no uncertain terms that each and every one of us has been and is being given spiritual gifts for the good of the congregation. He informs us that God does not want us confused or misinformed about that reality. He tells us that God expects us to use our minds, our intelligence to question, reflect, and understand God’s will and direction.
How do we care for our church?
- We start by living that scripture 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 into our
Lives here. (2) Later, we may continue by living that scripture beyond here — out in the wider world – but caring begins here.
Paul tells us we need to recognize three things about spiritual gifts:
- Spiritual gifts are freely bestowed by God alone [grace],
- Spiritual gifts are incredibly diverse in nature and distributed variously to each and all individuals [inclusive],
- How we use our spiritual gifts is just as important, maybe more so, than the magnitude of what we may accomplish [process].
GIVER – GIFTS – GRANTEE
First let us reflect on God, the Giver.
Please note, that although the Holy Spirit is mentioned seven times in these verses, the entire Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are united to accomplish this effort. From its inception, a model of relationship is presented. The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, and the Spirit sends the gifts. The Creator energizes, the Son serves, and the Spirit gives.
The Holy Spirit is much more than some sort of amorphous kind of invisible force field. The Spirit is manifest in this process. It is the Spirit’s insight that enables the bold declaration that JESUS IS LORD. To Paul’s audience, such a statement was not just some sort of comfortable bromide to voice. It was a compelling and dangerous thing to say. It still is in many parts of the globe. To Paul’s listeners, it speaks to being entirely dedicated to Jesus, to involving Jesus in every decision and every day’s activity and turning every nook and cranny of one’s life over to Jesus. To the first century believer, there is no split between the sacred and the secular, they are one. There is only one value system – God’s. And in God’s value system, evil and wrongdoing are neither acceptable nor welcomed.
Further, God’s gifts are a manifestation of His grace – unearned and freely given. These gifts are not something given in addition to grace. These gifts are not something better than grace. These gifts are God’s grace!
In our world, it is easy to confuse God’s spiritual gifts with achievement-focused rewards. Many of us may have been raised in an achievement-focused culture.
Children are given Christmas gifts because they been more nice than naughty.
High school and college seniors are given graduation gifts because they have successfully navigated an educational system.
Others are given gifts to mark important life achievements – marriage, purchase of a home, promotion, retirement or reaching another birthday.
God’s gifts are different because they are acts of kindness not attached to achievement. But, they are abilities bestowed for upbuilding the church.
Let us reflect on the diversity and distribution of Spiritual Gifts.
In this morning’s verses 6-8, Paul identifies several types of gifts – wise counsel, healing, miracle-working, proclamation, and even tongues. Later in this very chapter, verses 28 – 30 he adds prophets, teachers, helpers, and organizers. He repeats more in Ephesians 4 and then Peter, in addition, names some in 1 Peter. No list is meant to be exhaustive – just indicative. Today, we might seek to discern if our passions for peace-making or political freedom or justice or acts of mercy or environmental concern might also be spiritual gifts.
The key test that determines a spiritual gift, Paul tells us, is that spiritual gifts are not used for the individual’s glory, but for the common good of the congregation. As we strive to identify our individual gifts – hopefully, patiently, prayerfully – we would be wise to begin by first asking, how we can use that gift for the common good of our church family? How will doing this benefit the Congregational Church of Northridge? These gifts are not merit-badges handed out for holiness or outward signs of God’s approval. Spiritual gifts are God’s response to the needs of this Church. These gifts are intended for the giving. They do not define who we are, what we’ve earned, or our value
Why does God distribute spiritual gifts in the manner He uses? ALL Christians receive spiritual gifts – someway of showing others the presence of God. NO Christian receives all the spiritual gifts. The Rev. Lee C. Barrett notes that perhaps the church was never meant to be monolithic or homogeneous, because different talents and experiences and callings are not just interesting niceties, but are absolute necessities in a world growing so increasingly diverse. Further, God’s holiness is so multidimensional that it requires a host of different expressions to be made more completely apparent.
Yet, we always need to remember that no matter how diverse and multiple the gifts are; they all need to compliment each other. The Rev. Ed Markquart of Seattle uses two metaphors about the “body” as an illustration of this synergy.
- Your Human Body – You are composed of 11 different chemicals – 6 major (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and nitrogen), 4 trace (potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium); you have 10 different endocrine glands; you have some 80 organs and 11 major organ systems; you are over 72 trillion cells; you have a heart that beats 36 million times a year; while you produce 300 million red blood cells every day; and have over 60 thousand miles of blood vessels running through you. But you are one body.
- The Body of Christ – millions of members, in ten thousands of different settings, speaking hundreds of languages, tempered by millennia of different cultures, with billions of ways in which Jesus can be experienced. But we are one body.
Let us reflect on our use of Spiritual Gifts.
How are these diverse gifts to be used? How are we as grantees or trustees, if you will, supposed to handle these gifts? Pauls’ process is straightforward – identify the gifts, cluster the gifts into various ministries or services, and then take action or make expression – in each of the three cases all originate in God’s Spirit. Everyone is given something to do that shows who God is.
Nobody gets a pass. Not using a spiritual gift is not a private matter: it is a public misfortune. Not using a spiritual gift deprives all the rest of us in God’s intended sharing of that gift.
A word of caution. Spiritual gifts and career choices may not at all be reflective of each other. How easy it is to ascribe spiritual gift to a chosen occupation.
The person is in banking – stick them on the finance committee; the person is a teacher – off to Sunday school they are sent; that one has a rock band – get them in the choir; oh good, a secretary – good we need office help; at long last a social worker – we’ll plunk them down on the mercies team. But what if the banker is a natural evangelist? If the teacher has a gift for active listening and wise counsel? If the bandleader can preach? If that secretary has the outreach of a pastoral heart? If the social worker is a born administrator?
Perhaps, we start not by channeling people, but begin by asking how the full range of spiritual gifts is being lifted up? Which gifts are valued? Which gifts are lying fallow? Which gifts need to be given a chance to flower
The dynamics of our team covenants are important to all these concerns, but especially to the last. Our behavior toward each other determines just how far our church will open itself to the full exploration and encouragement of its members’ spiritual gifts.
The problem of the Corinthian Church was that they hadn’t covenanted with each other – they treated each other badly and denigrated, discredited, and disregarded the spiritual gifts of one another.
Putting God first, communicating honestly, focusing on healthy issue resolution, studying and praying, loving and encouraging others, being sensitive to the wellbeing and needs of others, striving to nurture, seeking consensus, trusting decisions with which we don’t agree, staying open-minded, listening actively, and extending and accepting forgiveness when needed, all create a safe and conducive environment for spiritual gift sharing.
In closing, using spiritual gifts is not about becoming some sort of spiritual superhero. It is not about trying to be a Gandhi or a Mother Teresa or a Saint Francis or a Martin Luther King or even a Saint Paul. If God had wanted us to be them, then we would have been them. God’s intention for each of us is different and each is just as valuable to Him.
Seek the inspiration of others, but do not be intimidated by their accomplishment. Instead, strive to imitate Jesus. John Calvin developed a three-fold division of how Jesus functions and performs relative to his spiritual gifts. Calvin called those three groupings Jesus’ “offices.”
- Jesus is a Gifted Prophet – Speaking and teaching the word and will of God. Perhaps your gift lies in that office – imitating Jesus in teaching, preaching, evangelizing – striving to understand and articulate God’s truth.
- Jesus is a Gifted Priest – Self-sacrificing for humankind and pleading our case before God. Perhaps your gift lies in that office – imitating Jesus in pastoring, praying, encouraging, serving, sharing, doing deeds of mercy, help, and healing –understanding and supplying basic needs.
- Jesus is a Gifted King – Mediating and reigning over, guarding and shepherding his church and the world. Perhaps your gift lies in that office – imitating Jesus in providing servant leadership, envisioning goals, discerning new missions, administering a program – understanding direction and group needs.
Imitate Jesus. Let the ‘Son’ shine by using the gifts we’re given. That is how we take of each other; that is how we take care of our congregation, and that is how we take care of our church.
Bless you. Amen.