It’s a Gift
(1 Corinthians 12: 1-11)
Have you ever met one of those persons who is so talented or gifted at that one thing they do that it just boggles your mind? You’re speechless and wonder to yourself, how did they do that? To some, it comes naturally, and others have to work at it to where they’ve mastered their talent or gift. Al Stricklin was the original piano player for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. His son married one of Teresa’s cousins and I had the pleasure of meeting Al. He and his wife came to one of the family reunions. Al sat down and played the piano in my mother-in-law’s den like no one I had ever heard. I had to look to make sure there weren’t two people playing at the same time. I asked Al where he learned how to play like that and he told me it came naturally. All he had to do was hear a song one time and it was off to the races. He said he never took a piano lesson and couldn’t read music, which he considered a curse. The gift was in Al just looking for a way to get out. My daughter can crack an egg with one hand and not break the yoke. Now that’s talent! I don’t think egg cracking was a gift just yearning to be set free, but it is a talent she practiced and developed on who knows how many eggs? The challenge to having a gift or talent is knowing when and where to use it, and using it for the common good of others. And, so you know, my daughter has many other talents and gifts which she does put to good use. Developing and using our gifts and talents for the common good is where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for today.
The issue of spiritual gifts was splitting the Corinthian church. These spiritual gifts had become symbols of spiritual powers, causing rivalries as some people thought, because of their gift, they were more “spiritual” than the others. You’ve probably seen it yourself. Maybe you saw it in your church or within some organization you were associated with. This person, hopefully not you, was convinced that the organization could not possibly exist without them. Without them, the organization or church, just couldn’t function and they’d have to close the doors. These people, within the Corinthian church, rather than helping advance the church mission, were dividing it by their selfishness and dissention. They were using their gifts and talents to manipulate others or to serve their own self-interests. “If I don’t get my way, I’m out of here!” “Let’s see how you get along without me!” Surprisingly, when people like this do leave, the mission gets a boost of energy and new life.
The Apostle Paul starts out by telling them that he doesn’t want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. He points out that when they were Gentiles they were often misled by false gods that can’t even speak. When I read that, I immediately thought of the time he was in Athens and saw a stone statue for every kind of god imaginable, including one to an “unknown” god. These were stone statues that couldn’t speak, unlike the living God who speaks to us through the Holy Spirit and the Word. Paul speaks of a problem with false teachers who were really not professing Christ as Lord. They needed to have their credentials tested by seeing what they were really teaching about Christ. Were they really preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ or were they preaching a gospel that elevated themselves? A person truly speaking by means of the Holy Spirit will never curse, demean or defame, Jesus, and all who genuinely proclaim the lordship of Christ do so by the Spirit’s enabling.
Paul then goes on to more fully discuss spiritual gifts and says, there are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. He is saying that we each may have different spiritual gifts but they all come from the same Spirit. We may have different ministries, but they come from the same Lord, and there may be different activities for each of us but they all come from the same God who decides who is best suited for each particular task. Paul is telling us that God is completely involved in the giving, using, and empowering of gifts. Specific gifts, places of service, and activities vary, but they all have their best effects when they build up the body of Christ, God’s Holy Church for the common good. God creates a unique place in the body, the church, for every believer.
Paul continues by explaining, a word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of tongues to another. This is no doubt as confusing to the Corinthians, as it is to us, because there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why one person gets this gift, and another gets a different gift. It begs the question; why him or her and not me? That’s what I wanted to do! I know I could do a better job! Joe’s going to get all the credit! Mary is just not the right person for this job. What was God thinking? The joy for the believer is discovering our God-given gifts as He equips us for a lifelong journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Paul assures us that all these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person. Paul is telling us that God has a plan and we are a part of that plan. We were redeemed for a reason, and we are given gifts to fulfill a greater purpose. These gifts and talents are hidden within us just waiting to be activated by the Holy Spirit, at which time, we can put our gifts into practice for the common good, the mission of the church. What good is a gift if it is never shared for the good of others?
Howard Thurman, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The same is true for our spiritual gifts. The world, our church, our community, your family, your workplace, doesn’t need you to do tasks for which you are not gifted. The world, our church, our community, our families, our workplace needs you to discern what gifts you have been given, and activate them to the fullest for the common good. The world needs more people “who have come alive,” who have been activated by God’s Holy Spirit. So, part of the exciting adventure of following Christ involves discovering one’s service contribution and then making it available to God. We are responsible to use and sharpen our gifts, but we can take no credit for what God has freely given us.
John Wesley believed lay people within the church were key to helping others develop their spiritual gifts. We have people who have been exercising one gift or another, one talent here and another talent there, for years. Seek them out and ask them about their service and what it meant to their walk with Christ and how it has changed their lives. We have numerous committees looking for volunteers who would like to develop their hidden talents. There is so much to do here in our church and out in the mission field. Let us help you further develop the spiritual gifts you didn’t know you had, or to use the talents you already have, in a manner that serves God. Come talk to us about what you’d like to do and let us find a committee or a task that meets your gift or talent. Who knows, you may even surprise yourself.
As you seek to identify and utilize the gifts God has given you to minister to the body of believers, make loving God, loving fellow Christians and others your highest motivation. The joy of selflessly serving others is a gift that keeps on giving.
Please pray with me.
I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we are the church together. God’s holy church is not a building. God’s holy church is his people, you and me and countless others. God’s church is made up of many kinds of people of all races, colors, ages, times and places. And when God’s people gather, there’s singing and praying and laughing and crying, all together as one family. As God’s holy church, we are moved by the Spirit to use our gifts and our talents to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the world to all who would hear it. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray, Amen.