Nineteenth in a series
1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
I’ve just returned from eight days that were quite stimulating in ministry coupled with personal relationships.
A week ago Thursday, I flew to Washington, D.C., to preach twice last Sunday at the National Presbyterian Church. How refreshing it was to share once again with that great congregation whose pulpit I’ve been privileged to fill on various occasions, going all the way back to the early 1970s. It was a time of great nostalgia, as I thought back to dear colleagues in ministry who have pastored that church and been dear friends. I went back to Ed Elson, Louie Evans, Jr., Bryant Kirkland, Craig Barnes, Tom Erickson and now the present pastor, Gareth Icenogle.
I went a couple of days early, both to help the jet lag adjustment and to also have some quality time with my long-term friend, Doug Coe, of the Fellowship Foundation. I stayed at their retreat house, Cedars, engaging with the constant flow of persons who are part of that fellowship, but also thinking and praying and thanking God for wonderful friendships and relationships, going all the way back to Richard C. Halverson who first introduced me to Dr. Abraham Vereide, Doug Coe and others of that fellowship when I was in my first year at Princeton Seminary in 1962.
Then after church on Sunday, I flew to Chicago, for the Executive Committee meeting of Christianity Today International. At our fiftieth anniversary celebration in October, I become chairman of the board of that “Print-Plus” ministry founded by Dr. Billy Graham in 1956, which now has expanded to publish Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership, Christian History & Biography, Leadership, Books & Culture, Your Church, Ignite Your Faith, Men of Integrity, MOM Sense, Preaching Today and a host of Internet information services for Christian leaders. Our biggest task at this moment is to identify and install the next generation of leadership and a CEO/Publisher and Editor-in-Chief to succeed the strong three-decade leadership of Harold Myra and Paul Robbins.
I had the serendipitous privilege of bracketing my Tuesday and Wednesday Chicago meetings for Christianity Today with some unencumbered, relaxed time with my 92-year-old mother, Dorothy Huffman, on Sunday evening, last Monday, and Wednesday evening to Friday morning. Then I returned home Friday to a desk stacked high with all the controversies of the world, the nation, our denomination and a local church, all gone crazy with various kinds of conflict.
Let’s face it, we’ve seen the rockets flying and the bombs falling in that devastation of life, buildings and negotiated peace between Israel and Lebanon in the north and Israel and the Gaza Strip in the south. At the same time, the conflicts continue in Afghanistan and Iraq, and another tsunami hits in Indonesia, although pushed away from the front pages by the Middle East crisis.
At home, the political ferment continues over gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, and the list goes on.
Our denomination continues in crisis, with my desk crowded with emails, letters, newspaper articles, expressing varied opinions and strategies as to where we go from here in the wake of the recent General Assembly. Next week, we will host two forums, one after the Saturday evening service and one after the second service Sunday morning, to get your input on these denominational matters, as your Session is unanimous in its concern to seek God’s guidance on the right strategy for us to have in concert with hundreds of like-minded congregations and presbyteries throughout our denomination. A major meeting was held this last week in Tulsa, and four more major meetings will be held in Atlanta, August 15-19. Those meetings will be attended by your Clerk of Session John Lehman, your Associate Pastor Jim Birchfield, and myself. We are determined to take the right action at the right time and not be hurried into that by the emotionality of the moment.
Today and next Sunday in these mid-summer preaching opportunities, I will stay on target with God’s Word. You never go wrong in sticking to the Bible and moving forward in biblical exposition.
Imagine with me for a moment what would happen if Jesus Christ would have quietly, unrecognized, slipped into this sanctuary, found a seat on the back row, observed every aspect of our worship, including the hymns that have been sung, the announcements given, the prayers prayed, the mission focus, the tithes and offerings presented, the Scripture read, and even the opening remarks to my sermon. What would He be thinking? And then when our Head Usher John Meigs realizes His presence here and hurries down the side aisle to hand me a note alerting me to His presence and I invite Jesus to share any comments He chooses to, what would He say? What would His candid, honest thoughts be?
I think I know. I think He would muse briefly on how His heart is broken for a world in turmoil, perhaps make a comment or two on the big moral issues facing us in American culture, perhaps even speak to the turmoil within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and our own local congregation called St. Andrew’s. But you know – and I invite you to disagree with me on this personal speculation which I’m going to make – I believe that He would pause after His opening remarks, stop for a moment and, for a discomforting minute or two, perhaps say nothing.
Then, I can picture Him, with great intensity, coupled with infinite love, looking into each of our eyes and saying, “I appreciate the way in which you try to stay sensitive to the horrendous issues facing your world, nation, denomination and local church. But what I appreciate most about you is the way so many of you are earnestly endeavoring to take seriously the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that have been revealed to you by my Holy Spirit. And I want you to know how impressed I am by your Mission Statement, which I read on the front of your bulletin, which humbly states, ‘St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is endeavoring to be the family of God together in joyful, Christ-centered worship and is committed to: Leading men, women, and children to a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ; building ourselves in the faith; and serving others here and throughout the world.’ The fact that you say you’re endeavoring to do this implies you don’t ever have it quite perfect, but your heart’s in the right place. I appreciate it wherein you are the family of God together in joyful, Christ-centered worship. Thank you for taking seriously my mandate to lead men, women, and children to a personal saving faith in me. Thank you for the ways in which you are endeavoring to build yourselves up in the faith. And thank you for getting beyond your own selfish interests to take seriously the needs of others here and throughout the world, needs social, physical, emotional, as well as spiritual. All these issues are important, but please, for my sake, don’t let them rip this local church apart. Stay faithful. Come up with strategies at the appropriate time but, in the process, I beg you, do not be distracted from your primary mission. What I’d like to challenge each one of you to do is to focus on utilizing the spiritual gifts I have entrusted to you to do my work until I come again. For those of you who have not discovered your spiritual gifts, I beg you, find out what unique abilities you have and get to work using them. Satan would love to distract you with international, domestic and church politics. But my agenda for you is worship, evangelism, nurture, and servant ministry. Keep focused on these and, in the due course of time, I will reveal, by my Holy Spirit, the best strategies for you to use in staying firmly committed to the truths of my Word. In the meantime, stay on mission!!!”
I’m convinced that the dream of Jesus for St. Andrew’s is that you and I would increasingly be the family of God in which each individual believer would use his or her unique spiritual gifts represented in this enormous diversity in a Holy-Spirit-inspired unity, which would further the ultimate good of this community and bring greater glory to God.
This is why the apostle Paul writes so frankly about life lived in community, stating, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed” (
Remember, Paul now is answering the controversial questions addressed to him by believers at Corinth. He has dealt with the matter of meat offered to idols. He has answered the question of how women should dress in worship. He has shared meaningful thoughts about the Lord’s Supper as a family reunion to be celebrated in a way in which we understand what it is all about, and we participate worthily.
Now he shifts his attention to the matter of spiritual ecstasy and the fact that some of the Corinthian Christians were priding themselves in the fact that they spoke in tongues and had other very dramatic spiritual experiences. Some of these were proud people, arrogant in their opinions, disrupting the church in controversy over issues and, in particular, seeing their own experience as normative, superior to the experience and action of other Christians in that community. Paul uses this as an opportunity to teach in practical terms what is going to have to happen if the dreams Jesus has for His church are to become reality. Spiritual gifts, in all of their diversity, are to be operative within the Christian community.
When we talk about spiritual gifts, it’s important that we note the difference between the gift of the Holy Spirit; the fruit of the Holy Spirit; and the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is different from both the gift and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These fruit is outlined for us in
These grow as fruit grows on branches. Your and my lives are these branches grafted into the main stem vine, which is Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit nurtures our lives, we will increasingly bear these fruit. It is possible for us to quench the Holy Spirit. It is possible for us to resist His presence in our lives. If so, we will become unhealthy branches, withering on the vine, sickly, nonproductive. If you stay close to the Lord, the people you know will become increasingly impressed with the way in which the Holy Spirit will produce in you these fruits.
Now that we’ve seen what the gift of the Holy Spirit is and what the fruit of the Holy Spirit are, we come to the matter of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As simply stated as possible, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are those skills or abilities which the Holy Spirit gives that will enable you to make a complementary contribution to the family of God.
Before we look at this more closely, we need to make some comments on
However, it is more likely that Paul in these two verses is contrasting pagan and Christian ecstasy. The question is, who does the inspiring? Is it a demonic spirit or is it the Holy Spirit? The identity of the inspiring source is known by the content of the utterance. It is the Holy Spirit who exalts Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who enables you and me to confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Let’s never forget the tremendously important role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
Paul makes reference to those who were once caught up in heathen worship being led astray. There was religious ecstasy in pagan worship. It is not just the Christian who has religious ecstasy. The Christian is empowered by the Holy Spirit to witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The result of the ecstasy is a different result. Far from drawing the believer into activities and attitudes which bring disfavor to the Savior, true Christian worship exalts Jesus Christ, bringing glory and honor to our Lord.
The reality is that, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit is part of your life. The Holy Spirit is the one who keeps you from speaking out against Christ. The nonbeliever can take the name of Jesus casually. Curses can roll from that person’s tongue. He is genuinely shocked if you are to stop him and say, “Careful now, the person of whom you speak is my best Friend, my Savior, my Lord.” To the believer, the name of Jesus Christ is precious. The Holy Spirit makes it such.
There are varieties of spiritual gifts which are given by the Holy Spirit for the common good of the church.
Paul puts it in these terms: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (
The most significant emphasis of this passage is the fact that, although there is one Holy Spirit and an emphatic call to unity in Christ, this unity is enhanced by diversity.
Unfortunately, there is a built-in tendency in most human institutions to seek unity in conformity. Rather than encouraging each person’s uniqueness, it is often discouraged. This quest for uniformity can suddenly turn into a baptism of an authoritarian approach to leadership. Most of us know that societies run more efficiently when they are run by a dictator and where conformity is put as its highest premium. But even as secular society becomes lifeless when totalitarian regimes stifle creativity, so does the church, which values conformity to the neglect of God-given gifts.
Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., established that church on two pragmatic biblical principles. Principle One: There is no gift the church needs that God has not given to one of its members. Principle Two: The work of the church is to encourage the members in the discovery and use of these gifts.
Think through the implications of these two principles. If there is no gift which St. Andrew’s needs that God has not given to one of our members, it means there is nothing that God would want to do here at St. Andrew’s that cannot be done. It’s important, though, that we discover what our gifts are so that we can then be the people God would have us be. It means that, if Jesus Christ were to stand in front of this congregation now and assess what gifts He’s given to everyone of us, He would see not only enormous potential for you as an individual, but enormous potential for this church in terms of its life and ministry that goes far beyond the most visionary dreams of the most creative thinker here. There is just no limit to what we could be if we really begin to maximize the spiritual gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has equipped us to carry out our tasks. His tools are spiritual gifts. He states, “I do not want you to be uninformed.” Unfortunately, we too often are ignorant of His provisions. These spiritual gifts are not means for our own personal benefit. We are gifted by God’s Holy Spirit for the sake of the whole body of Christ. Your spiritual gift or gifts function right along with that of another’s.
Imagine, for example, if Hoag Hospital had an entire medical staff made up of brain surgeons, 500 of them. They happen to be the finest brain surgeons in the world, functioning out of that excellent facility in this marvelous Newport Beach area. Needless to say, brain surgeons are some of the most well-prepared, skilled, gifted professionals. Just imagine how severely minimized Hoag’s effectiveness as a hospital would be in this community if all it had on its staff were brain surgeons. A variety of gifts are needed. You think of anything that can go wrong with the human body and then build a medical staff around all those various specializations. No one set of individual gifts is adequate in providing for the holistic health of the community. You need not only doctors but nurses, administrators, laboratory technicians, orderlies and a host of volunteers.
The same thing could be said about an orchestra. Diversity is the key to a well-functioning orchestra. As a youngster, I played the trombone. I was never very good at it, but I loved the instrument then and I love it now. There may be an occasion on which seventy-six trombones would be appropriate for the music played. That is more the exception than the rule. The finest orchestras have a brass section, a woodwind section, a string section and a percussion section. Each of those have a variety of instruments. Not all of them play at the same time. Not all of them make sounds equally loud. Not all of them are the same size. Some appear to be quite a bit more majestic than others. An orchestra to be a great orchestra needs an enormous amount of diversity. My preoccupation with the trombone, if projected throughout the musical world, would produce a very dull musical diet.
One of my favorite preachers is Dr. Charles Swindoll. On one occasion, he was teaching about spiritual gifts and the importance of a variety of gifts functioning in a way which produces unified ministry. He referred to his own youth when he played in the Houston, Texas, Youth Symphony. I believe he said that he played the oboe, which put him in the middle of the woodwind section next to one of the two piccolo players. Being a practical joker, he had found a fishing cork of perfect size to fit into the end of a piccolo. On one occasion when they had a major concert, he thought he would have a little fun. While his seat-mate, the piccolo player who also doubled as the flutist, was playing the flute, he reached down and popped his cork into the end of the piccolo. He imagined that he’d be playing a little private joke on his friend, forgetting that the next time the piccolo was to be played was during John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” You know there’s a passage there where suddenly the piccolo becomes the center of that stirring number. Swindoll relates how there were only two piccolo players in that orchestra. One was not very good, so his seat-mate was to carry the day in that tremendous flurry of piccolo music, which came at such an important part. He graphically describes the disruption which ensued when the piccolo player went to play his arpeggios, only to find that the piccolo didn’t work. It was too late then to explain the cork and make an apology.
I doubt that many of us would single out the piccolo as the most significant instrument in the orchestra. However, there are moments in which it is front and center. Swindoll had destroyed one of those moments. As a result, he had hampered the total effectiveness of the orchestra.
Never forget that God has assigned specific gifts to each of us. Yours may seem modest compared to someone else’s. Yours in essential to the welfare of the body. Varieties of spiritual gifts function to the glory of God for the “common good of the church.” Do not minimize your gift. Don’t wish that you had someone else’s gift. Some of us are plagued with the spiritual disease called jealousy. We want what someone else has. We are not content with what we’ve been given. Instead of maximizing the gifts which God has given us, we waste our time bitter and resentful that someone else has something we don’t have.
Or, if perhaps we have a gift which is highly recognized, we may think that we’re entitled to play all solo parts. We become spiritual prima donnas. Nothing is uglier than a prima donna who struts in conceited fashion, thinking that the universe revolves around him or her.
Once again, the analogy of the orchestra is quite fitting. An orchestra not only needs a variety of instruments, it needs a leader who determines what musical pieces are to be played. Imagine you went to hear the L.A. Philharmonic. The house lights dim. Guest conductor Andre Previn lifts the baton, and each member of the orchestra begins to play his or her favorite composition. Imagine the cacophony of sounds that would emerge. Some are playing classical. Others are playing jazz. Some are into country-western. Others are playing rock. Each is fantasizing that theirs is a solo part, and none is playing the same tune. Each is a free person entitled to his or her opinions. Each is playing a fine piece of music. How long do you think the audience would stay? The facts of life are that the evening would end abruptly, not because there’s enormous variety, but because that variety is not orchestrated into a presentation of unity around a common score conducted by a well-respected leader.
I’ve seen too many churches in which either the congregation is ruled by a hard, firm hand of a dictatorial pastor or lay leader to the point that the varieties of spiritual gifts are never recognized and utilized. Or, at the other extreme, everybody is a leader; everybody is determined to do his or her thing. You end up with egotistical division, conflict of interest, and the whole concept of the “common good” is destroyed.
There are various places in the New Testament that list some of the spiritual gifts.
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Paul lists nine in our present passage in
One is the utterance of wisdom. This is the power of knowing and communicating the deep things of God to others. The president of my alma mater at Wheaton College, the late Dr. V. Raymond Edman, had this gift. He was able to communicate the deep things of God in a way which led me in the right paths.
Two is the utterance of knowledge. This tends to be the capacity to put wisdom into practice. It’s a most practical gift.
Three is faith. This is not saving faith. Every believer in Jesus has that. This is the special capacity to claim spiritual victories from God. Church history is marked by persons like George Mueller, who, in faith, built orphanages, depending on God to supply the resources. Hudson Taylor built a great missionary enterprise to China. Mother Teresa, in faith, established many centers of care for the poorest of the poor. Not everyone has the same amount of faith. There have been some who, years ago, envisioned what God might do here at St. Andrew’s, and they had the faith to believe it could be done. And it is being done. They and others of us have the faith to believe that ten, twenty, thirty years from now, this church can be doing even a greater work in inreach and outreach, carrying out its mission, if it is not sidetracked by Satan from that mission.
Four is healing. Whether it is the gift of one in the medical profession or the gift of one who facilitates spiritual healing or the one who spiritually is enabled by God to minister physical healing, it is a gift. Not all of us have it.
Five is the working of miracles. This may have referred to exorcism. There are demons. Some have the particular gift of deliverance in the name of Jesus of those held captive by Satan.
Six is the gift of prophecy. It does involve, in some cases, predicting the future in “foretelling.” Most specifically, it is the “forthtelling” of the Gospel. It was prophetic ministry that Nathan had when he called David to repentance. It is a prophetic word when God’s grace is declared in a way that people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Seven is the gift of discernment of spirits. Some have the ability to distinguish between what is of God and what is of Satan.
Eight is the gift of tongues. Some tongues are ecstatic religious utterances in an unknown language that simply minister to the inner being. Some utterances have meaning for others, if there’s someone there to interpret.
This brings us to nine, the gift of interpreting of tongues.
I could go on and on and take other passages of Scripture and list many gifts. Those of you who want to know how you can discover your gifts should sign up for the Discovery Experience offered by Sharon Corzine and her team in Lay Ministry. Join with others reading over these biblical lists. Experiment, pray, talk this over with Christian friends. Ask them what they think your gifts are. For God’s sake, don’t covet the spiritual gifts of another. Just keep working. I’ll guarantee that God will bless you and build up His kingdom in the process.
Jesus Christ may not be physically in this sanctuary right now. But He is present in the person, work and power of His Holy Spirit. He looks you directly in the eyes, knows the ambiguities of your life, your good and your bad points. He wants to embrace you with His grace. He wants to alert you to the spiritual gifts He has given to you that will enable you to enrich the life of this community, as the varieties of gifts are brought together in a oneness, focusing on the person and work of Jesus Christ. There will always be controversial issues to distract us. We, your leadership, are giving attention to them. But let us not major in minors. With God’s help, let’s move forward in positive mission, each one utilizing our spiritual gifts in harmonizing concert to the glory of God!
Jesus looks you in the eyes and says, “Stay on mission!” Are you willing to obey Him?
John A. Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.