Love is an action

Peanuts cartoon, “I love mankind… It’s people I can’t stand.”

I’m sure we all feel that way from time to time, and some of us feel that way most of the time. Maybe you feel that way right now. Loving the world in general isn’t that difficult; loving the people around us can be a major challenge. In 1 Corinthians 13, we find one of the most beautiful and familiar chapters in the Bible. This chapter is typically read at weddings and anniversary celebrations. It has even been set to music. Yet, this was never the original intent. Instead, Paul was writing a rebuke to a dysfunctional church for their abuse of the spiritual gifts. Typically though, this understanding is often ignored. Consequently, I wonder if most Christians have truly pondered the deeper meaning of this passage. Have we heard this Scripture so often that we no longer think about what the words mean? I would suggest that if we ignore the context of this chapter we are in danger of missing its major impact.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul will argue that love is an action, not an emotion. The kind of love Paul will talk about is seen, experienced, and demonstrated. This is contrary to our culture that honors personal feelings above almost everything. We do what we want when we want because we “feel” like it. And if we don’t “feel” like it, we don’t do it. But as I study this passage, I am struck by the complete absence of any stress on personal feelings. Hence, if love is an action, not an emotion, we need to study what God has to say about love. We need to know what love is and what it looks like when it is lived out in the church. In these thirteen verses, Paul provides three distinctions of love.

  1. Love is greater than any spiritual gift(13:1-3). In these three verses, Paul mentions six spiritual gifts: tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, and martyrdom. The first four gifts are listed in 12:8-10. The gift of giving is among those mentioned in Rom 12:8. Martyrdom does not occur anywhere else as a spiritual gift, but by its association with the other five gifts here, we can add it to the spiritual gifts God gives to His church. Paul kicks off 13:1 with the gift of tongues when he writes, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Some Bible students seem to have missed Paul’s point here and have interpreted him as speaking merely of eloquence in human speech, but clearly he is referring to the gift of tongues. After all, the last gifts mentioned in chapter 12 are tongues and the interpretation of tongues. And those same gifts are the main topic of chapter 14. It is quite logical, then, that Paul begins the intervening chapter by discussing tongues. The use of tongues that Paul is speaking of here is the gift of speaking a private prayer language. Paul says you can speak in tongues all you want, but if you don’t have love you are merely making a lot of noise.

In 13:2-3, Paul mentions five more spiritual gifts when he writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Prophecy refers to the ability to declare God’s truth in a powerful, life-changing way. Knowledge involves the deep understanding of the Word of God. Faith is the unique ability to trust God for great things. These three gifts are all from the Holy Spirit, and yet without love the person who has them is “nothing.” Verse 3 poses a problem because it asks us to ponder activities that we automatically consider noble. Giving to the poor is a good thing to do. And dying for your faith in Christ is the ultimate sacrifice. But as good as these things are, without love they do you no good. Paul declares that the greatest expression of spirituality is love. We could summarize these three verses like this: Without love…I say nothing, I am nothing, and I gain nothing.

Clearly, we must have love when we are exercising our spiritual gifts. So stop for just a moment and reflect on your spiritual gifts and your ministry in the local church. Do you do what you do out of genuine love for people? Or do you serve out of a sense of obligation? Do you serve because of the satisfaction you derive from ministry? Do you minister because you like honing your skills? Although no one has perfectly pure motives, we ought to be seeking to grow in our love quotient. Paul says that love is an action, not an emotion; therefore, we need to put feet to our love. [After talking about the importance of love, Paul now will discuss how love behaves.]

  1. Love is expressed by supernatural responses(13:4-7). Love is a word that can only be properly defined in terms of action, attitude, and behavior. Paul has no room for abstract, theoretical definitions; instead, he wants us to know what love looks like when we see it. Thus, he paints fifteen separate portraits of love. Yes, that’s right: in the space of four short verses Paul uses fifteen verbs, all of which have “love” as their subject. Our contemporary definition of love is that it is an emotion or a feeling—we love our jobs, we love football, we love pizza. In the biblical definition of agape, love acts, for love is an action, not an emotion. Verse 4 begins by summarizing the unselfish nature of love.

1) Love is patient. The Greek language has several words for “patience.” One signifies patience with circumstances while another is used only in reference to patience with people. The Lord knows we need both kinds of patience, but it is this second word that is found here. The KJV renders this word “long-suffering.” I like this! Paul seems to be saying that love doesn’t have a short fuse. It doesn’t lose its temper easily. A person who exercises agape love does not lose patience with people. Love never says, “I’ll give you just one more chance.” Love is patient.

The longer that I live, the easier it is for me to be patient with others. With every passing year, I recognize more fully that I sin against God and others. As God humbles me with my own sinful shortcomings, I find it easier to exercise greater patience with others. Loving people are willing to tolerate the shortcomings of others because they know they have faults too. As you mature do you feel more and more patient or do you feel you are growing more and more crotchety? God wants you and me to grow in patient love for those whom we minister to and with.

2) Love is kindPatience must be accompanied by a positive reaction of goodness toward the other person. Kindness, however, is not to be equated with giving everyone what he or she wants. Sometimes love must be tough. In the context of the church, kindness may mean forcing an addict to go through the hell of withdrawal. Kindness may mean saying no to a spoiled child. Kindness may mean reporting a crime committed by a friend. Kindness means to withhold what harms, as well as give what heals. Love is kind, but often tough. Paul followed the two positive expressions of love with eight verbs that indicate how it does not behave.

3) Love is not jealous. Jealousy implies being displeased with the success of others. Yet, true love desires the success of others. The best way to cure envy is to pray sincerely for the one of whom you are jealous. To pray for him or her is to demonstrate love, and jealousy and love cannot exist in the same heart.

4) Love does not brag. The root word for “brag” in Greek is very picturesque and is closest to our English word, “wind-bag.” Love is not an egotistical blowhard. Love is not big-headed but big-hearted. This means the more loving you become, the less boasting you need to do. The greater your spiritual gifts, the less prone you should be to brag. After all, the gifts you have been graciously given are from God. When you and I brag, we are demonstrating our insecurity and spiritual immaturity. Paul states that bragging is the converse of biblical love. Hence, we should pursue Christ so that we will be humble before Him and others.

5) Love is not arrogant. The term “arrogant” refers to a grasping for power. It is more serious than bragging, which is only grasping for praise. Arrogant people push themselves into leadership, using people as stepping-stones, and always consider themselves exempt from the requirements on mere mortals. Arrogance disrespects others and carries a distain for others. God calls us to serve others and be gracious toward them.

6) Love does not act unbecomingly. This word is best translated “rude.” There are some Christians who seem to take delight in being blunt, justifying it on the grounds of honesty. They will say, “I’m just telling it like it is.” But love doesn’t always tell it like it is; it doesn’t always verbalize all its thoughts, particularly if those thoughts don’t build others up. There is a graciousness in love which never forgets that courtesy, tact, and politeness are lovely things.

7) Love does not seek its own. Love is the very antithesis of insisting upon one’s own rights. Needless to say, this is a rare quality today. Ours is a society in which self-seeking is not only tolerated, it is even advocated. You can go to any bookstore and pick up titles like, Winning Through IntimidationLooking Out for Number One, or Creative Aggression. But a self-absorbed narcissistic person cannot act in love. Love is not possessive, demanding, stubborn, or dominating. Love does not talk too much but listens as well. Love does not insist on its own way. It is always willing to defer to others.

8) Love is not provoked. Love is not given to emotional outbursts, is not exasperated by petty annoyances, and refuses to let someone else get under one’s skin. But, you say, when someone else provokes me, it’s not my fault. Yes it is. We don’t have to get irritated, and if we were exercising love, we wouldn’t. One English version translates this virtue, “Love is not touchy.” Do you know people who are so quick to take offense that you have to handle them with kid gloves? You try to avoid talking to them and when you can avoid it no longer, you carefully measure every word you say to make sure that you say exactly what you mean. But still the person seizes upon something and twists it to make you look bad. That kind of person knows nothing of agape love, for love is not touchy.

9) Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. Paul uses the normal word here for bookkeeping. Love does not keep a ledger of evil deeds. It doesn’t write down each injury done and keep the account open to be settled someday. I know some people who are accomplished bookkeepers in regard to injuries sustained. Love doesn’t hang on to reminders of wrongs. Who are you keeping a book on? Are there some ledgers you need to go home and toss in the fireplace?

10) Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness. One of the reasons I detest watching the news is that the bulk of stories concern people’s misfortunes and misdeeds. There is something in our human nature which causes our attention to be drawn to murder trials, FBI probes, natural disasters, and human tragedies. Love is not like that. Love takes no joy in evil of any kind. It takes no malicious pleasure when it hears about the inadequacies, mistakes, and sins of someone else. Love is righteous. Now, after eight sobering negatives come five glorious positives.

11) Love rejoices with the truth.  Situation Ethics -any action—whether lying, adultery, or even murder—can be moral if it is done in love. However, I would argue that if an action does not conform to the truth of God’s Word, it can’t be done in love. Truth and love go together like hand in glove. Truth must make our love discriminating, and love must make our truth compassionate and forgiving. If our actions are in accord with agape love, we will always welcome biblical truth, never resist it.

12) Love bears all things. The phrase “bears all things” comes from a Greek word meaning to cover something. It is related to the word for roof—a covering that offers protection from the hostile elements. 1 Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude of sins. That is precisely the meaning here. Love protects other people. It doesn’t broadcast bad news. It goes the second mile to protect another person’s reputation.

There are two very relevant applications: First, love doesn’t nitpick. It doesn’t point out every flaw of the ones you love. Second, love doesn’t criticize in public. This is perhaps Paul’s primary meaning. Love doesn’t do its dirty laundry for the entire world to see. That’s why I cringe whenever I hear a husband humiliating his wife in public or a wife making snide remarks about her husband. I always think, if they do that in public, what do they do in private? As a friend of mine once told me, “There are many times in my life when I’ve been sorry I opened my mouth. But there has never been a time I’ve been sorry I kept silent.” When it comes to needless criticism of other people, that’s excellent advice.

13) Love believes all things. Love is always ready to allow for extenuating circumstances, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best about people. Many of us have developed a certain distrust of people because of negative experiences. We have heard stories about how the person who stopped to help a motorist in distress was robbed or even murdered. We have been warned never to loan money to someone without a legal document guaranteeing repayment, even if the other guy is a Christian. But there are worse things than gullibility–namely suspicion and mistrust. Love always trusts. It is also useful to remember that even in a court of law the accused person is always “innocent until proven guilty.” Love says, “I am willing to wait for the evidence to come in before making my decision. I choose to give you the benefit of the doubt as long as there is reason to do so.” Some of us treat our loved ones in nearly the opposite way: “You are guilty until you prove you are innocent.”

I do not tire of repeating that people tend to become what we believe them to be. They either live up to or down to your expectations. If you treat a man as trustworthy, he will strive to prove himself worthy of your trust. If you tell a child, “Take a big swing. You can hit that ball,” he’ll go to the plate and swing like Babe Ruth. If you treat your wife as if she is the most beautiful woman in the world, she will be transformed before your very eyes. That’s what Jesus did. To vacillating Simon, He said, “You are a rock.” To a prostitute, He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” To a woman caught in adultery, He said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” It is the simple power of believing the best and not the worst about people.

14) Love hopes all things. The third phrase in 13:7 tells us that love “hopes all things.” This is simply a step beyond believing. The meaning is something like this: There are times in life when you face situations so difficult that faith is not possible. You would gladly give the benefit of the doubt but there is none to give. You search for the silver lining but the angry clouds overhead have no silver lining. Love has a positive forward look. Paul is not here advocating an unreasoning optimism, which fails to take account of reality. Nor is he just teaching the power of positive thinking. But he is suggesting that love refuses to take failure as final, either in oneself or in someone else. Love never gives up on people. And the reason the believer can take such an attitude is that God is in the business of taking human failures and producing spiritual giants out of them. And He can do it with you or your child or that impossible kid in your S.S. class. Of course, “always hoping” doesn’t mean that we sit back and just watch God do His thing. Rather it means that we get actively involved in the process as He molds the future according to His perfect plan. Love hopes and expects the best. Love never loses faith in other people and gives up on them but remain faithful to them, in spite of their shortcomings.

15) Love endures all things. The word “endures” is a military term that means to hold a position at all costs, even unto death, whatever it takes. The battle may be lost but the soldier keeps on fighting to the very end. The word pictures an army surrounded by superior forces, being attacked and slowly overwhelmed on every side. One by one your comrades fall at your side. Through the noise of battle comes one final command: “Stand your ground, men. And if necessary, die well.” So love holds fast to people it loves. It perseveres. It never gives up on anyone. Love won’t stop loving, even in the face of rejection. Love takes action to shake up an intolerable situation. Love looks beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future.

No one can have a totally happy conscience after reading through these fifteen expressions of love.

We are the opposite of 13:4-7 on every point. However, this love list defines God’s gift of Himself in Jesus Christ. If you go back through these verses and everywhere you find the word “love” substitute the word “Christ,” all these statements will still be true. The kind of love being described is love that has its source in God, and as we look at each of the phrases it becomes obvious that we’re defining a lifestyle that really is beyond our human reach. It is absolutely impossible unless we abide in Christ and ask Him to live His supernatural love in and through us. If you have never believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, will you do so today? Not only will He give you the gift of His eternal love, but He will allow you to love the way God intended.

[Love is greater than any spiritual gift and love is expressed by supernatural responses. Now we will see that…]

  1. Love is an eternal gift(13:8-13). In these final six verses, Paul will discuss the temporary nature of the spiritual gifts and the eternal nature of love. In 13:8, Paul talks about the temporary nature of gifts when he writes, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” When Paul says, “Love never fails,” he means love never ends. The synonym for this expression is “love abides” in 13:13. These phrases serve to bookend this final section where Paul argues that the spiritual gifts will be done away with one day.

The reason that spiritual gifts like prophecy and tongues will come to an end is revealed in 13:9-10. Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” Paul explains that we are limited in our understanding, but this will not always be the case. A time of perfection is coming! The “perfect” refers to the returning of Christ. When we recall that 1:7 pointed out the ongoing role of the gifts until the return of Christ, there can be only one possible interpretation of “perfection”—it is the life in the world to come, after Jesus reappears on earth.

Paul explains himself further in 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Paul explains that our understanding of God is indirect in this life. He uses two analogies: childhood and a mirror. In using the analogy of childhood, Paul is not suggesting that those who speak in tongues are childish and immature. Rather, he is adopting an eternal perspective and simply saying that there will come a time when the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be necessary.

The analogy of the mirror implies that our visibility of Christ is indirect. In other words, Paul is comparing the nature of looking in a mirror to the relationship we will enjoy with Jesus when we see Him “face to face.” I enjoy looking at pictures of people, but if I had my choice I would prefer to spend time with the people that I am looking at in photo albums.

Paul concludes this chapter in 13:13 with these words: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” For all eternity, we will enjoy these three attributes. We will experience God’s incredible love, we will experience a deep love for God, and we will love one another with a perfect love. We will also continue to have “faith” in the Lord for all eternity. But what about “hope?” What could possibly be the meaning of hope when we are in an eternity that has no pain or tears or sorrow? Will we hope for better days?

Obviously not! There is one nuance behind “hope” that is applicable here, namely, a meaning of hope that is synonymous with “trust.” In eternity, we will continue to trust in God’s goodness in our lives and in His provisions for us. Hope in this sense “abides” or “remains,” as do faith and love. But the greatest of these is love, for love covers not only what we experience in our relations to others and to God, but what we experience from God Himself.

Today, how will you grow in your love for others? First, I would suggest that you cannot become the loving person you desire to be apart from a loving and vibrant relationship with God. This love relationship must be cultivated first and foremost. Second, you must love those nearest to you. This means that if you are married, you focus on your spouse. If you have children, you prioritize your children. If you are serving in a ministry, you love those children, teens, or adults. You strive to love your neighbors and coworkers. Once you have accomplished this, you will be able to better love the world around you. God has called us to love people. Jesus said that all people will know we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another (John 13:34-35).

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We are all in this together!

Ever since I was 15, I have been fascinated with bodybuilding. Professional bodybuilders are interesting creatures. They are incredibly disciplined and will do anything, legal or illegal, to win a bodybuilding competition. Due to the competitive nature of bodybuilding, in order to win a competition one cannot have any weak body parts. For example, if your calves will not bulge like diamonds in the rough you will never be able to be a competitive bodybuilder. If your lats will not flare like a king cobra you will not progress. If your biceps will not grow a peak like the Himalayas you might as well hang it up. For all of their peculiarities, bodybuilders understand the value and significance of every single part of the body. There can be no undeveloped or lagging parts. Every single body part must develop and function at its absolute best.

Did you know that God is also interested in bodybuilding? He is…although His idea of bodybuilding is of a different nature. God wants to build every muscle in His church. He doesn’t want there to be any superior or inferior body parts. He wants everyone and everything to be symmetrical. There can be no undeveloped or lagging parts. God expects every part of the body to grow and do its work.

In our passage, Paul is going to discuss the importance of church teamwork. This is expected because the Old and New Testaments have a corporate emphasis. This is not to depreciate the fact that people become Christians on an individual basis, but that once one is a Christian the focus is always on the health, unity, and well-being of the whole. In 1 Cor 12:12-31, Paul will inform us that everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

  1. Appreciate the solidarity of the body(12:12-13). These first two verses give the theological basis for the body imagery that is developed in the rest of this passage. Paul states that every part of the body is essential because every believer is a member of the church. In 12:12, he writes, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” This verse is a tongue twister and can be a little confusing. It can help to change the word “member” to “organ,” like the organs of the body. The term “body” is introduced in 12:12 and then repeatedly employed by Paul 18 times throughout the remainder of the chapter. The word “one” occurs five times in 12:12-13. Hence, the emphasis is on unity and oneness. Our body of many members is unified in one body. Paul is so intent on driving home this point of our oneness in the church that he refers to Christ as the church. This is one of the places in Scripture where all believers collectively are called “Christ.” Paul had received an inkling of this truth on the road to Damascus when he fell to the earth and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) He had been persecuting Christians, not realizing that in so doing he was persecuting Christ. Saul, who later became Paul, would one day learn that every believer is a member of Christ’s body. Likewise, you and I are members of the body of Christ…and we are one body.

 

In 12:13, Paul explains the reason for the oneness of the church: we have all been placed into the body of Christ. Paul puts it like this: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul argues that every Christian has experienced Spirit baptism. Notice the word “all” as well as the past tense, “were baptized.” Every believer shares in this experience. It occurs the moment we trust in Jesus Christ. In Spirit baptism the Holy Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ. He makes us a part of His church. The baptism of the Holy Spirit means if you belong to Jesus Christ, you belong to everyone else who belongs to Jesus Christ. This means the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a matter of having a certain level of spiritual maturity, achieving some advanced spiritual state, or receiving a “second blessing.” On the contrary, every believer experiences Spirit baptism regardless of his or her race or social status. We are now on equal footing in the sense that we are all members of the body of Christ.

The phrase “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” is confusing because biblically it refers to one trusting Christ as Savior, but it is used today of an empowering, yielding, post-conversion experience in the lives of believers. I do not deny the reality of this subsequent experience, but I prefer the description “Lordship experience.” We might also speak of deeper fillings of the Holy Spirit.

The figure of drinking of one Spirit recalls John 7:37-39 where Jesus invited the thirsty to come and drink of Him to find refreshment. Baptism and drinking are both initiation experiences and take place at the moment we believe in Christ. In the first figure the Spirit places the believer into Christ, and in the second the Spirit comes into the Christian.

 

Now, having been introduced to this important analogy between the human body and the body of Christ, I would say there are two key problems that constantly plague the church and prevent us from enjoying unity in diversity. Those two tendencies are what we might simply call an inferiority complex and a superiority complex, or self-pity and pride. When certain Christians think they just don’t have anything to offer and therefore fail to participate in the life of the church, the body cannot be complete. On the other hand, when some think of themselves as God’s gift to the church and don’t allow others to contribute their gifts, again the body cannot function well. If this passage teaches anything, it teaches us that both inferiority feelings and superiority feelings are out of bounds in Christ’s church. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

  1. Do not underestimate your importance to the body of Christ(12:14-20). In these verses, Paul, in a somewhat humorous vein, attempts to get his point across that every member of the body has a different role to play, but that all of these parts are needed in order for the body to function as a unit. He personifies two different body parts—the foot and the ear—to say, “Because I am not the hand/eye, I am not of the body.” In this section, certain members have an inferiority complex. In 12:14, Paul writes, “For the body is not one member, but many.” Paul is making a simple statement of fact that every part of the body, every organ, is valuable. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

In 12:15-16, Paul writes, “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.” The phrase “I am not a part of the body” occurs in both 12:15 and 12:16. This is an indication of a feeling of insignificance: “No one thinks that I am important or significant. I have little to contribute to this ministry. I don’t really matter to this church.” The foot is jealous of the hand because he is covetous of the hand’s prominence. The hand is in the public and in the limelight, but the foot is in confinement inside a shoe. We rarely permit our feet to go out in public. We manicure hands and put ointment on them. We make hands beautiful by putting rings on them. We put jewelry on the hand but rarely on the foot. Hands take a scalpel and do delicate operations. They play the piano or violin. No wonder the foot feels inferior! During a church vote, no one in a meeting says, “Raise your foot” it’s always “Raise your hand!” The foot thinks, “The hand has so much dexterity, it can pick up things so easily.” The foot has an inferiority complex because the hand is out in the limelight!

 

Yet, the body would be in bad shape without a foot. Did you know that you use more than 200 different muscles to walk? If your feet and their muscles are not working well you aren’t going very far. Furthermore, if you dislocate a tiny bone in your foot your whole body is miserable. Feet are awfully important. So why should the foot say, “I don’t count; I’m not important; no one ever notices me; no one cares about what I do. If I do anything, no one sees me or cares about me. I don’t belong. I might as well give up.” No, God rewards the foot based on being a foot. If you have been gifted as a foot it’s easy to look at those gifted as hands and think how skilled, how capable they are, and that you’re not important at all. However, all God expects is that you do what you can with what you have. Remember that each part of the body is important. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

Similarly, the ear feels inferior to the eye. The eye is out front whereas the ear is on the side. No one ever talks about the ears. Lovers do look into each other’s eyes; they do not look into each other’s ears! The only one who looks in our ears is our mother and all she ever says is, “Wash those dirty ears!” They say wonderful things about the eye. Eyes come in color. Poets write poems about the eye but never about the ear. There is nothing very impressive, appearance-wise, about ears. Has anyone ever approached you and said, “You have incredibly attractive ears?” I seriously doubt it. Yet, your ears are critical.

 

Unfortunately, some at Corinth who lacked the more spectacular gifts of others were discouraged and began to ask whether they had any place or function in the church. So Paul moves from the sublime to the ridiculous by envisioning an absurd scenario. In 12:17, he asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” Try to picture being an “eye-body”—one massive six-foot eye! How gross it would be if the whole body was an eye. How useless and unattractive. You couldn’t hug or kiss. You wouldn’t have anything to kiss with, unless you “batted each other” when you got up close. You would get hurt all the time as you rolled around the house. We would see everything but hear nothing. Think of trying to drive a car or getting into bed. It isn’t so wonderful being an eye. The same could be true if the whole body was an ear. The body depends on union of all the members to function, so it is utterly ridiculous for the body to consist of one member. If all the church had was the pastor/teacher, how impoverished would that church be? A body with just an eye would not be able to hear. A body with just an ear would not be able to smell. We must always recognize that any public ministry is built on a private ministry. My teaching is only as powerful as our praying. The worship is only as fruitful as our nursery. The point is that we need each gift for the body of Christ to function.

 

In 12:18-20, Paul emphasizes that God sovereignly places the gifts in the church that He desires. Paul writes, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.” Paul makes it clear that God is the one that has gifted every church the way He wants her gifted. Notice that God “placed the members…just as He desired.” The church is all about the sovereignty of God. We are one because of God’s work. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

[Beginning at 12:21, we have a transition from those who feel inferior in their gifts to those who feel superior. In this section, we see members who suffer from a superiority complex.]

 

  1. Do not overestimate your importance to the body of Christ(12:21-26). Paul explains that we need to squash spiritual pride because we all need each other. He writes, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” With this statement, Paul seems to be getting closer to the difficult issue being faced in Corinth. As we have seen on several occasions in this letter, pride was indeed a problem among the Corinthians. Paul needs to get across that all of the members in Corinth need each other, and no one is dispensable.

 

In 12:22-25, Paul continues his rebuke: “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less presentable are all critically important. Paul rejected the Corinthians criteria for evaluating which gifts were most honorable. They had chosen the most visible or audible gifts for selfish reasons. The sole purpose of the gifts was to build up the body of Christ; the true criterion for the greatness of any gift would be its usefulness to the body of Christ.

How does this apply to the church? Every church has people who are out in the forefront and love the public spotlight. But what is really essential to the ongoing life of the church is the people behind the scenes—those who serve faithfully and quietly (and often are the ones who make the leaders look good).

We tend to forget that many of the strengths we so admire in one person are often incompatible with the strengths we admire in another. The grace of a figure skater is useless to a Sumo wrestler. The diligent research and study of my favorite theologian doesn’t leave much time for the globetrotting compassion of my favorite missionary.

In 12:26, Paul pens one of the most powerful verses in the Scriptures: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” If you’ve ever been sick with a cold or the flu you know that a simple cold, cough, or sore throat can affect your entire body. Last year, I had the flu twice. I was so sick that I was scared I was going to die and then when I didn’t, I wished I had. This little bug didn’t just affect my stomach, it affected my whole body. I ached from the tip of my head to the bottom of my feet. I experienced chills. I ran a fever. I was in flat-out agony. When one part of your body suffers, the whole body is brought down.

 

Paul took the theme of mutual care one step further. As members of the same body we are so closely bound together that we actually share the same feelings. What causes joy for one member delights the whole body. When one member suffers the entire body hurts. Most of us do a better job empathizing with those who suffer than we do rejoicing with those who are honored. If we could ever come to the conviction that we are truly family, it would change many of our attitudes about ourselves and others in the church. I know that I receive greater joy in seeing my children achieve than in my own achievements. If we are family, why is it so difficult to see another member of our own body receive honor? Our measure for evaluating our gifted self-images is not another body member, but our faithfulness in employing our unique gift for the good of the family itself. We must desperately yearn for the success of others.

[Now that we have done away with spiritual inferiority and superiority complexes, we are ready to…]

  1. Celebrate the diversity of the body(12:27-31). Paul takes the analogy of the physical body and applies it practically in terms of gifting and how ministry is to be expressed. In 12:27-28, Paul writes, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” Paul lists eight kinds of members with special functions. The ranking of the first three items corresponds to their building up the local church. We will briefly discuss these definitions.

Apostles: As a spiritual gift, this is the ability to begin and/or to oversee new churches and Christian ministries with a spontaneously recognized authority.

Prophets: The ability to receive and proclaim a message from God. This could involve the foretelling of future events, though its primary purpose as seen in 1 Cor 14:3 is forthtelling: “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” This gift provides a word from God to a specific group, not the normative Word of God to all believers.

Teachers: The ability to clearly explain and effectively apply the truths of God’s Word so that others will learn. This requires the capacity to accurately interpret Scripture, engage in necessary research, and organize the results in a way that is easily communicated.

Miracles: The ability to serve as an instrument through whom God accomplishes acts that manifest supernatural power. Miracles bear witness to the presence of God and the truth of His proclaimed Word, and appear to occur most frequently in association with missionary activity.

Gifts of healings: The ability to serve as a human instrument through whom God supernaturally cures illnesses and restores health. The possessor of this gift is not the source of power, but a vessel who can only heal those diseases the Lord chooses to heal. Inner healing, or healing of memories is sometimes associated as another manifestation of this gift.

Gifts of helps: The ability to enhance the effectiveness of the ministry of other members of the body. This is the only usage of this word in the New Testament, and it appears to be distinct from the gift of service. Some suggest that while the gift of service is more group-oriented, the gift of helps is more person-oriented.

Gifts of administrations: This word, like helps, appears only one time in the New Testament, and it is used outside of Scripture of a helmsman who steers a ship to its destination. This suggests that the spiritual gift of administration is the ability to steer a church or Christian organization toward the fulfillment of its goals by managing its affairs and implementing necessary plans. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration.

Various kinds of tongues: The ability to receive and impart a spiritual message in a language the recipient never learned.

 

Why does Paul include two lists in a single chapter? The two lists are critical to Paul’s broadened understanding of spiritual gifts. The first list enumerated only the prized gifts of the Corinthians, the miraculous ones. In the second list, Paul literally pulled the top and the bottom out of the first list and expanded the accepted definitions of spiritual gifts. He added leadership abilities and service abilities. God’s expectation is that every Christian will serve in the local church. Yet, someone may say, “I am an inactive Christian.” There is no such thing. That is like saying, “I am an honest thief” or “I am a godly prostitute.” An inactive Christian is a paradox in terms. No Christian is without a special, supernatural gift from God. Inactive Christians are about as good as a bump on a pickle. There is no such animal as an inactive Christian biblically.

 

Paul prepares to close out this passage with a third list of gifts in a descending order of priority. Each of Paul’s seven questions expects a negative answer. Paul writes, “All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” Paul’s point is that it would be ridiculous for everyone to have the same gift. Variety is essential. It is wrong to equate one gift, particularly speaking in tongues, with spirituality. All of the believers in the Corinthian church had been baptized by the Spirit (12:13), but not all of them spoke in tongues (12:30). Thus, Paul deals a deathblow to the theory that speaking in tongues is the sign of the possession of the Spirit, for the answer “No” is expected to each question.

 

Paul’s final words are found in 12:31: “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” The command to “earnestly desire the best gifts” is not addressed to the individual but to the collective church. The implied “you” is second person plural in the Greek. We cannot select our gifts because that is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. However, as a congregation we can “earnestly desire” that the “best gifts” (superlative gifts) be manifested among us. The “best gifts” are those that benefit the general body of Christ. In chapter 14 Paul lists “prophecy” as a greater gift.

 

Paul advised the Corinthians to seek some gifts more than others because some are more significant in the functioning of the body than others. While the bestowal of gifts is the sovereign prerogative of the Spirit (12:8-11, 18), human desire plays a part in His bestowal (cf. James 4:2). This seems to indicate that the Spirit does not give all His gifts to us at the moment of our salvation. I see nothing in Scripture that prohibits our viewing the abilities God gives us at birth as part of His spiritual gifts. Likewise, a believer can receive a gift or an opportunity for service or the Spirit’s blessing on his ministry years after his conversion. Everything we have or ever will have is a gift from God.

 

My three children like certain types of food. If I am scooping them a bowl of ice cream or cutting them a piece of cake, they always ask for more before they have even begun to consume what I have served. My response is always the same: “Before I give you more, you need to eat what you have.” In the same way, before we can expect God to give us more gifts or use us more fully, we must serve with what we have.

I want you to imagine a large puzzle, say, one with about 500 pieces that we are going to attempt to put together. As with every challenging jigsaw puzzle, each piece is different in shape and often in color. Furthermore, every piece is needed in order to finish the puzzle, and there are no extra pieces. If we weren’t certain of that we wouldn’t even start the puzzle. Who needs that level of frustration? Each piece, of course, fits in only one place. If we try to force it into a place where it doesn’t fit, the corners get bent and then another piece is prevented from taking its rightful spot.

Our church is very much like this jigsaw puzzle. There are over 2000 individuals who call Mobberly their church home. Each one has unique talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Furthermore, every one of them is vital to the big picture, to the proper functioning of this church—there are no spares or extras. If one person tries to do something that someone else is better suited to do, we end up with two people out of place. This means we all need to discover our spiritual gift and serve in the most fruitful way possible. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

Unwrap your gift and use it!

I want you to stop for just a moment and think back on all of your Christmas celebrations. When you were growing up, can you recall a Christmas where you really wanted a particular gift? In your childish ways you didn’t just request this gift, you nearly demanded it. You felt like your life would not be complete if you didn’t receive this gift. You wanted this gift so badly that you could taste it.

Imagine that instead of opening THAT gift with exuberance and gratitude you opened the package, yawned, said “ho-hum,” and casually laid the gift aside without expressing any gratitude. How do you think the gift givers would have felt? They would have been devastated after spending time and money locating this gift for you. If it was from your parents, they were excited to bless you with this gift and watch you put it to use.

Now imagine how the Lord must feel when He gives gifts to His children and they never make the effort to find out what the gifts are, never thank Him, and never put them to use. It must be incredibly disappointing to the Lord to see so many of the gifts that He has given shelved away and never used or shared with others.

Today, I’d like to see us put an end to this common phenomenon. In 1 Cor 12:1-11, Paul is going to tell you to unwrap your gift and use it to serve others. This passage addresses the topic of spiritual gifts that runs all the way through chapter 14. In these verses, Paul expresses two realities to you and me to encourage us to unwrap your gift and use it to serve others. Like a wide-eyed child in pajamas on Christmas morning, let’s begin to unwrap these verses on spiritual gifts.

  1. Jesus is the validation of spirituality(12:1-3). Before Paul launches into his discussion on spiritual gifts, he wants to focus first on the common work of the Spirit in each one of our lives. In 12:1, Paul lays down a basic introduction to the paragraph and indeed the next three chapters. Paul indicates his concern that the Corinthians not be ignorant of certain truths about the things of the Spirit. Paul writes, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.” The phrase, “Now concerning,” reminds us that Paul is responding to another question from the Corinthians. It is worth noting that the word “gifts” is in italics, meaning that it is not in the original text. Thus, the noun “spiritual” (pneumatikos) can be rendered “spiritual gifts,” “spiritual persons,” or “spiritual things.” It is likely that “gifts” and “persons” were so closely connected in the Corinthians’ minds that Paul used the word “spiritual” to imply both. Perhaps the question could be restated as follows: “Don’t the spiritual gifts prove that we are spiritual persons?”

Remember, the Corinthians were the most gifted church in the Scriptures while at the same time the most carnal church in the Scriptures. They were a church of divisions, immorality, and distortion in doctrine. This serves to remind us that a great spiritual gift is no indication of spirituality. It is possible to be gifted and not spiritual. In this case, the Corinthians were getting high on their spiritual giftedness instead of recognizing the source of the gift—Jesus Christ. As a result, Paul informs the Corinthians that he does not want them to be “unaware” or “ignorant.”

As we progress throughout chapters 12-14, we shall see that the Corinthians are emphasizing the gift of tongues above everything else. Therefore, Paul has to bring about order in the church and remind the Corinthians that all of God’s people have gifts and all are equally valuable to the health and vitality of the church.

In 12:2-3, Paul discusses three different responses to Christ: the rejection of the pagan, the rejection of the Jew, and the faith of the Christian. Paul is clarifying who possesses the Spirit and who does not. In 12:2, Paul reminds the Corinthians of their idolatry during their pre-Christian lives. He writes, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.” Many of the Corinthian believers had been pagans. These Gentiles worshipped various idols that could not speak or help. A second response is the rejection of the Jews. In 12:3a, Paul writes, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’” Here, Paul speaks of the typical response of the Jews. Not all of the Corinthians were Gentiles before believing in Christ…some were Jews who did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. The final response is found in 12:3b, where Paul writes, “…and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” To say that Jesus is “Lord” is to say that He is God. In the context of the Jewish world and the OT, this confession essentially affirmed that Jesus was God. This was a counter-cultural assertion. A citizen of the Roman Empire was required to declare, “Caesar is Lord.” But Christians who believed that Jesus was the only Lord couldn’t say this. It was really a challenge to faith. Thus, Paul’s point is this: No one can say that Jesus is Lord except through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural act.

Why does Paul bring up these three responses to Christ? He does so to refute the claims of those Corinthians who assume that they alone possessed the Spirit. Paul wants all of his readers to understand that salvation is the greater leveler. Every member of the Corinthian church who has trusted in Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is incredibly valuable to God. This is also true in our church today. If you have believed in Christ, it is because God did a supernatural work in your life.

[Paul is clear: Jesus is the validation of spirituality. Now in 12:4-11, Paul is going to explain another reality.]

  1. Variety is the spice of church(12:4-11). In this section, there are three emphases: the source of our gifts, the goal of our gifts, and the distribution of our gifts. First, in 12:4-6, we will see the source of our gifts from the triune God. Paul writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” Paul tells the Corinthians that there’s not a single gift or even a one-size-fits-all box of gifts that believers are given. In these three verses, Paul uses the word translated “varieties” three times because God loves variety. Every snowflake, every set of fingerprints, every leaf on every tree, and every grain of sand is different from every other. God never makes an exact replica. Instead, God says we are wonderfully different from one another. And He encourages diversity in His church by gifting each one of us uniquely for ministry. Yet, in spite of this variety believers are united by the same God. Each member of the Trinity (the Tri-Unity of God) has a role in spiritual gifts: the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts, the Lord Jesus places people in ministry, and God the Father empowers people to do ministry. In light of these biblical truths, there are three responses.
  1. First, you must discover what spiritual gift the Holy Spirit has given you(12:4). The Greek word for “gift” is charisma, from which we get our English words charisma and charismatic. The charispart of the word means “grace.” The ma portion of the word is the passive suffix meaning that it is grace given. They are “grace gifts” that enable a person to glorify and serve God. The one who exercises his or her gifts could rightly be called charismatic. (So charismatic is not a name for just a few of the gifts.) These grace gifts are not earned; they are not the result of hard work; they are not even ones we choose for ourselves. And they may, or may not, be related to our natural skill set. Remember, God has not gifted you to do what you want to do; He has gifted
  2. you to do what He wants you to do. The grace gift(s) that God has chosen in His sovereignty to grant you are expressions of His love. In the exercise of your spiritual gift from God you will find fulfillment

That’s why the question, “What is my spiritual gift?” is so important. Unless you know the answer, you’ll never be 100% effective in your service for Jesus Christ. You may spend your life doing something for which you were not gifted by God and so be frustrated and ineffective. It’s sort of like taking one of those big offensive linemen and putting him out at wide receiver. He can’t run and his hands are like bricks. But put him at left guard and he’s right at home, because he was born to knock other men on their backside. In the same way, some people throw up when they are forced to go door-to-door witnessing. They aren’t gifted in evangelism. But put those same people over the finances and because they have the gift of administration, they are incredibly successful. There are others who could never get up and teach a class, but they know how to lead a small group because they have the gift of pastoring. Still others work behind the scenes caring for the sick, bringing over meals, comforting those in sorrow. They have the gift of mercy, but don’t ask them to speak in public. The very thought makes them break out in hives.

So take the time to discover your spiritual gift. Begin today by carrying out these four steps:

  1. Pray specifically for God to reveal your gift.
  2. Ask mature Christians who know you what strengths they see in you.
  3. Look for open doors of opportunities to try different areas.
  4. Follow the desires of your heart.

I challenge you today to unwrap your gift and use it to serve others.

  1. Second, you must plug into ministry (12:5). Jesus died to give you the gift (charisma) of eternal life, but He also died so that you could serve Him with your spiritual gift (charisma). When you and I fail to do so, we fail to carry out one of the purposes in His death. God has given you a spiritual gift to benefit others around you. That is why it is a tragedy if you don’t know what your spiritual gift is, if you’re not in the process of finding out what it is, or if you’re not using your gift for the body. That means the body of Christ is not benefiting from your supernatural endowment. God wants to know, “Who is benefiting from the gift that I gave you?”

Now I need to state that the discovery of spiritual gifts flows out of service. Whenever you see God gift His people, it’s because He has given them a task to perform, not vice versa. The problem is that we have a generation of Christians who sit, soak, and sour every week waiting for God to reveal their gifts to them before they get busy serving. These people will never discover their gifts. Instead of “gift-hunting” these folks need to be “Spirit-hunting.”

What is more important than serving in the area of your spiritual gift? The answer is simple: exhibiting a servant’s heart. This means showcasing initiative and reliability. My wife is the ultimate servant. She rarely if ever asks me to do anything. She serves me like I am a king. But once a year or so, she asks me to do something for her. Of course, I am glad to do so. But what I really love is to do something for her when she doesn’t ask me to do anything. It could be a simple task like make dinner, fold the laundry, vacuum the house, or make a child’s bed. There is great joy in serving when you are not asked.

It is also worth pointing out that one of the greatest pleasures in this life is serving others. Research indicates that serving has an overwhelmingly positive impact on one’s spiritual growth. Furthermore, church members state that serving others has brought them as much or more joy than other spiritual disciplines. I would also add to this research my own conclusion that the only people who are ever fulfilled or content in a local church are those that are actively serving. I rarely, if ever, receive complaints or whining from those on the front lines of ministry. Hence, one great reason to serve is to live a fulfilled life.

  1. Third, you must depend upon God for the results (12:6). The Father Himself is responsible for the variety of effects. Literally, the word is “energizings.” That means, logically, that we are not responsible. It takes a great weight off of us when we are trying to serve the Lord in ministry. What we are called to is faithfulness in exercising our gifts in the places where Christ directs us. Then God takes full responsibility for the eternal impact.

Is it possible for someone to walk in the Spirit without exercising his or her gift? Absolutely not. The Holy Spirit will reveal Himself in a special way through you, through the exercise of your gift. To refuse to use your gift is to say “No” to the Holy Spirit and to deprive His church of blessing. Many of us have underestimated the consequences of refusing to serve in our personal lives. God disciplines His children for a lack of participation. Therefore, unwrap your gift and use it to serve others.

Now that Paul has described the source of our spiritual gifts, he gives the purpose of spiritual gifts. In 12:7, he writes, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” This is the key verse in this section. Paul again reminds us that we have been given a spiritual gift for the benefit of others. Unfortunately, too many Christians are like young children with their Christmas gifts. They have their stash, and they do not want their brothers or sisters to touch their gifts. The parents have to spend part of Christmas playing referee because of the children’s unwillingness to share a gift. In most cases, those children added nothing to the purchase of their gifts. They made no contribution to what was under that Christmas tree, yet they hoard their gifts as if they personally bought and paid for them.

Is your church stronger because of you? Nutritionists speak of “empty calories.” In order for these calories to be processed the body must use some of its nutritional resources, yet empty calories do little or nothing to nourish the body in return. Calories from other types of food, however, that only take from the body’s strength as they are metabolized, replenish it.

Do you receive more ministry from the church than you minister to it? I wonder what needs, long-term or temporary, God is going to meet by placing you here at Mobberly? Have you asked yourself that question? God intends for every member of the church body to be served by it, and there are times when even the most spiritually mature members will receive more ministry than they give. Nevertheless, the goal for each of us should be to serve in the church in such a way that it is stronger because we are there.

Everyone who really wants to can do something to strengthen the work of the church. I’ve visited many homebound or nursing home Christians who maintained a ministry even though they could never attend the church. They prayed faithfully, some even as a part of the church’s prayer ministry. Some have a ministry of encouragement through cards or calls; still others are determined to be an encourager to all who visit them. Some of our seniors tirelessly volunteer at our church. They are not retired, they are “refired” to serve the Lord. Regardless of your limitations of time, strength, or money, your church should be stronger because of you.

Are you a consistent worker or a convenience worker? Too many people have decided that they will serve in the church only occasionally and when it’s convenient. They are convenience workers rather than consistent workers. The church needs servants: people who will make long-term commitments and be dependable. The classic example is a Sunday school or Bible study teacher. She or he prepares faithfully every week and serves God in His church, loyally and steadfastly. Of course many other ministries require the same regular commitment. No church can be effective without people like this. However, there is a lack of commitment in the church. Fewer people want to commit to an ongoing ministry. More and more leaders hear, “I’ll help out when I can,” and “Call on me when you really need me.” Yet the truth is most of us want the benefits of the nursery, the benefits of teaching, and the benefits of children’s ministry without being involved.

The late Bud Wilkinson served as the chairman of the President’s Council for physical fitness during the Johnson administration. Someone once asked Wilkinson what role professional football had played in America’s physical fitness. Wilkinson responded with these words, “Absolutely none. In football you have 22 players on the field desperately in need of rest being cheered on by 50,000 spectators in the stands desperately in need of exercise!” Unfortunately, that is true in many local churches. The members see the pastoral staff as the “players” in ministry but view themselves as merely spectators. If the church is doing well, the members cheer. If the church begins to decline, the cheers quickly turn to jeers. That may make for exciting football, but it is a lousy way to run a church. Paul says God’s pattern for the church is that every member be involved in ministry.

In 12:8-10, Paul brings out the idea of the diversity of the gifts as he lists nine of them. When we look at the list as a whole several characteristics emerge: (1) The gifts would have been prominent in the worship service. (2) They are the gifts most frequently referred to by people today as “miraculous.” (3) Many of the gifts are directly related to speech and revelation. (4) It follows that we would find little continuity between these gifts and any abilities possessed before one becomes a Christian. In these verses, it is not Paul’s desire to explain what he means by each and every gift listed. They are simply enumerated to show the diversity involved in the Spirit’s work.

However, I will quickly explain the gifts without bogging down into too much explanation or controversy.

The word of wisdom: God-given insight into the mysterious purposes and workings of God.

The word of knowledge: God-given insight into what God is doing in the world.

Faith: the ability to confidently believe God for changes and spiritual growth that will enhance the purposes of God. A person with this gift is quick to believe God for things they may never see.

Healing: the faith to believe God for healing. Individuals can serve as agents of God’s healing power.

Effecting of miracles: gives a person the ability to call on God to do supernatural acts. The best use of this gift is that of believing God for miracles that will bring glory to Him and cause others to consider God’s will for their lives. This gift can refer to miraculous healings but also to the casting out of demons and other “signs and wonders.”

Prophecy: a declaration of God’s will to God’s people. Prophecy is for edification and encouragement and does not necessarily exclude teaching and doctrine (14:3, 31).

Distinguishing of spirits: the ability to know when truth or error is being spoken and whether a prophet is a true or false one.

Various kinds of tongues: the ability to speak in a Holy Spirit inspired language. It is worth noting that the gift of tongues is last in Paul’s list. This is true whenever Paul mentions tongues in 1 Corinthians. One thing we should acknowledge is that Paul considered “tongues” to be a natural part of worship; however, he did not expect that everyone would have the gift of tongues.

The interpretation of tongues: the ability to interpret tongues.

While you may not have any of these miraculous gifts, stick around until next week and you will learn about some other gifts. But don’t bog down in what your gift is…just serve.

Paul closes our passage in 12:11 with these words: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” This is a great summary of this whole section. It’s also the fifth reference to the Holy Spirit as the giver of gifts. Paul emphasizes once again that every believer is spiritually gifted. These gifts are not for some spiritual elite, but the entire body of Christ. We are all gifted. We are all called by the Lord to minister with the gifts He has supplied.

Each believer, regardless of his or her gifts, ministries, and the manner and extent of God’s blessing, demonstrates the Holy Spirit through his or her life. All three of these things manifest the Spirit’s presence, not just the more spectacular ones in each category. Believers who have spectacular gifts, ministries, or effectiveness are not necessarily more spiritual than Christians who do not. Each believer makes a unique contribution to the common good, not just certain believers.

The story is told of a boy who did his household chores and left his mother this note: “For cleaning my room, $5…For washing the dishes, $3…For raking the leaves, $10…Total: $18. You owe me, Mom.” The mother read the note while the boy was at school and put $18 on the table. With it she left her own note: “For bearing you nine months in the womb, throwing up for three months, no charge. For cooking your breakfast every day, no charge. For washing and ironing your clothes, no charge. For staying up all night when you were sick, no charge. Total: Grace.” When the boy read that note, he ran to his mother and asked, “What more can I do to let you know I am grateful?”

Our salvation cost a lot, but it was no charge to us. In grace, God has given us eternity. In grace, He has given us forgiveness. In grace, He has done more for us than we could ever do for ourselves. One thing you can do to show your gratitude is to pray, “Holy Spirit, as I serve the family of God, show me how You have gifted me. Reveal to me what supernatural enablement You have given me that I can use for the common good of my brothers and sisters in the family of God.” He’ll answer that prayer every time!

Taking care of God’s family – Lord’s Supper

The most powerful title or position I’ll ever hold is “Dad.” I absolutely love being a dad to my three children. It is a privilege and a joy. I concur with Bill Cosby who said, “Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.” As a father, the greatest gift I can receive is when another person blesses one of my children. Similarly, the most hurtful thing anyone can do to me is to hurt one of my children. If there is anything that is capable of bringing out my wrath, it is this. What is especially hurtful is when one of my children hurts another one of my children. Worse yet, when one of my boys hurts his little sister.

Did you know that God the Father feels the same way I do? He absolutely loves being a dad. He cares about each of His children in the deepest way imaginable. But what grieves Him is when one of His children hurts another one of His children. Worse yet, when one of His children who has been given much dishonors one who has little.

We will discover that God will not tolerate divisions and distinctions within His body—the church. The reason is simple: God is dead serious about His body. In 1 Cor 11:17-34, Paul provides three exhortations for us to follow.

 

  1. Include the entire body of Christ in worship(11:17-22). In these first six verses, Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for being divided. Paul begins this section in 11:17 with sobering words: “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.” The conjunction “but” serves to contrast the worship events of 11:17-34 with 11:2-16. Ironically, the very equality the Corinthians were misusing in 11:2-16 was resolutely denied when it came to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. This is confirmed by the use of the verb “praise.” In 11:2, Paul praised the Corinthians because they remembered him in everything and maintained the teachings he passed on to them. But in 11:17 (cf. 11:22) he does not praise them on account of their class divisions (see 11:18). Instead, he declares that they “come together not for the better but for the worse.”

The verb translated here “come together” (sunercomai) is used five times in this passage (11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). Elsewhere, the verb refers to either coming or going with one or more persons (i.e., to travel together with someone). Additionally, sunercomai is used in sexual contexts to describe coming together to unite in an intimate relationship. Hence, with more than a sprinkling of irony, Paul repeatedly describes the Corinthians as coming together in one location, knowing full well that their eating was anything but “together” as a unified body. Thus, the very ritual that was intended to celebrate the gospel and symbolically act out their oneness in Christ had become an occasion for splitting the church on the basis of status. This explains why Paul stated that the Corinthians “come together not for the better but for the worse.”

Paul now explains this problem further in 11:18: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” The phrase “in the first place” is emphatic since no “second” follows. First and last on Paul’s mind are the “divisions” that are taking place in Corinth. It is for this reason that Paul cannot praise the Corinthians. Instead of treating one another with brotherly love and acting as the family of God, there are divisions among them. What Paul has in mind is a division between those who have more than enough to eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper and those who have insufficient quantities. This is evident from the contrast in 11:21-22 between “one who is hungry” and “one who is drunk.” In 11:22, Paul identifies a group within the church as the “have-nots,” whose members are humiliated by the actions of their counterparts. This deeply grieves the heart of God for God is dead serious about His body.

As in 11:18, Paul explains himself further in 11:19: “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” “Factions” or “divisions” can have a positive side. They serve to clarify whom God approves as faithful and who are not. God’s approval (dokimoi) contrasts with what Paul had written earlier about being disapproved (adokimos; 9:27) by God. Thus, “the approved” are those who behave in a Christian manner and thus stand out from the ones who do not. Mature Christians will become evident in times of crisis.

The indictment of 11:17-19 is expanded in 11:20-22. Yet, before we read these verses we need to make sure we understand how the Corinthians are abusing the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper was usually part of a meal the early Christians shared together—the “love feast.” In Corinth, instead of sharing their food and drinks, each family was bringing its own and eating what it had brought. The result was that the rich had plenty but the poor had little and suffered embarrassment as well. This was hardly the picture of Christian love and unity. They were eating their own private meals rather than sharing a meal consecrated to the Lord. Furthermore, some with plenty of wine to drink were evidently drinking too heavily.

Now with this scenario in mind, read Paul’s words in 11:20-21: “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” Paul provides a glaring contrast in these verses. Instead of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthians devour their food while the poor go hungry. The idea here is not eating first, but refusing to share food and drink. Furthermore, the grammar suggests that the “devouring” took place during the meal itself. Thus, the wealthy members of the Corinthian church were guilty of gluttony and drunkenness while the poor went without (11:21). This notion can also be supported from the customary practice at Greco-Roman banquets where wealthy hosts—those with homes large enough to host the communal meal—would have assigned the biggest and best portions of food to the more privileged.

Nevertheless, Paul did not tolerate what was socially acceptable in ancient Corinth.

He closes out this section in 11:22 with a series of rhetorical questions, creating a strong rhetorical appeal. Paul exclaims, “What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.” Paul is grieved at the behavior of the church; therefore, his words are flavored with a righteous indignant anger. The response of the Corinthians should be repentance. Whatever the precise circumstances, a meal designed to express unity was being so abused as to highlight the disunity of this church. The cliquish behavior of the Corinthians reflected significant social and economic differences; thus, members who brought nothing with them to the meal were being humiliated and going hungry, while those who could bring plenty to eat and drink, enjoyed their own food without sharing it. What should have been an inclusive community meal had become an occasion for simultaneously private meals. This was an affront to Christ and His gospel.

I wish divisions and partiality were problems only in first-century Corinth, but I am sure they are alive and well in the 21st century at Mobberly. Do we prefer certain people over others? Do we gravitate toward those who have money or are successful by the world’s standards? Do we only want to socialize with those who are like us? Why do we struggle so to reach out to those who are different than we are? Our prayer must be that we will not allow any kind of prejudice, whether social, racial, generational, or cultural, to control our attitudes toward anyone in the body of Christ. We must always remember that God is dead serious about His body. [As a loving and impartial Father, God calls us to include all of His children in worship.]

  1. Recapture the significance of the Lord’s Supper(11:23-26). In 11:23-26, Paul gives a brief theology of the Lord’s Supper. In doing so, he reminds us to remember that the Lord’s Supper pictures Christ’s self-sacrifice on behalf of His people. Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” Twice in these verses, Paul urges the Corinthians to remember the death of Christ. By partaking of the bread and the cup, we remember that Jesus Christ took our hell that we might have His heaven. It is His “body on our behalf.” The Lord’s Supper is God’s way of getting us to keep the cross of Christ central in the life of the church. We use the Lord’s Supper to draw close to Jesus in gratitude for what He has done for the entire church through His cross. As we draw near to Him through His Supper, He will draw near to us.

Many couples renew their marriage vows on an anniversary of their wedding. Some couples plan large celebrations; others simply renew their vows before each other. Either way, this act declares a confirmation of original vows and a commitment to continued faithfulness. But we can also think of the new covenant with the tenderness and devotion of renewed marriage vows. Unlike a human marriage, however, the new covenant represents God’s declaration of His devotion and commitment, even though the other covenant partner, His people, had not remained faithful. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus has done for us in spite of ourselves.

Paul closes this section by stating, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (11:26). The proclamation of the Lord’s Supper is to show forth the Lord’s death until He comes. By means of the Lord’s Supper the Corinthians are to show in a physical way the death of Jesus and what it accomplished for their salvation and corporate fellowship. The result should be that the Corinthians will not overindulge themselves, despise and shame others, or allow brothers and sisters to go hungry. To do less is the epitome of selfishness.

A well-known painting of the Vietnam Wall depicts a young widow and her daughter standing at the wall, reaching up and touching the name of the husband and father who died. The reflection in the polished granite is not of the mother and daughter but of the husband and father reaching out his hand to touch theirs. That is the Lord’s Supper. We arrive at the table and reach out our hands to take the bread and the cup. In response to our act of faith, Jesus touches us. The significance of the Lord’s Supper is this: We remember Christ and proclaim Him because He laid down His life for us. If you have never believed in Jesus Christ’s person and work, please do so today. [Our loving and impartial Father wants us to remember and proclaim the great sacrifice of His Son.]

  1. Judge yourself to avoid God’s judgment(11:27-32). In this section, Paul warns us against abusing the Lord’s Supper. In 11:27-29 he writes, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” The opening word “therefore” (cf. 10:12; 11:33) indicates that Paul is now resuming his main discussion from 11:22. Furthermore, he is drawing a conclusion from what he has said and giving an explanation to his teaching. Since the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of Christ’s death (11:23-26), eating and drinking “unworthily” is unconscionable. The word rendered “unworthily” (KJV) or “unworthy manner” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) is not an adjective describing the condition of the one partaking of communion, but an adverb, describing the manner in which one partakes of the Lord’s Supper. The sin of the Corinthians, for which divine discipline was imposed, was related to the manner in which the Lord’s Supper was observed.

The Corinthians are not commanded to examine themselves to see whether or not they are Christians, but to see if they are properly discerning the body of Christ. There is likely a double-entendre in 11:29 with the reference to “the body,” referring literally to Jesus’ physical body “which is for you” (cf. 11:24), and the church as the Lord’s corporate body, which was being divided by the Corinthian attitude (cf. 11:17-22). In other words, one who treats fellow believers poorly fails to discern that they are members of Christ’s church, His body. One may also fail to discern the significance of Christ’s death since by His death He created a people; and therefore one who mistreats fellow believers at the Lord’s Supper reveals that he or she has little understanding of why Christ died.

Practically speaking, this means that if you are not in fellowship with another believer strive to resolve the schism in your relationship before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. In Matt 5:23-24, Jesus told His disciples not to worship God until you have first reconciled with your brother. Fortunately, Paul provides a supplementary note when he writes, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18). It’s not always possible to attain this, but God’s goal is that there not be any outstanding balance in your fellowship bank account. Instead, we are to pursue peace.

Paul now applies the general truths of 11:27-29 specifically to the situation at Corinth. In 11:30 Paul writes, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” The judgment here is physical and it is progressive: weakness, sickness, death. The word “weak” refers to illness of any kind (depression, anxiety?) while the term “sick” refers to weakness and on-going poor health. The verb “sleep” refers to the death of a believer. Paul is dealing with illness as a physical divine judgment; but not all illness is. These verses apply only if and when the problems of weakness, sickness, and death are problems resulting from divine discipline because of unconfessed sin.

It has been said, “God has been known to give ‘dishonorable discharges.’” In other words, eventually, God says, “Enough is enough. Your time is up!” Why does God do this? For the simple reason that He loves us and wants to ensure that we are in fellowship with Him. Since pain gets our attention, He uses pain. “Sometimes Christ sees that we need sickness for the good of our souls more than healing for the good of our bodies.” But even when He resorts to this form of discipline, He does so because He loves us. God is dead serious about His body.

Paul continues his argument in 11:31-32 with two powerful truths. First, in 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” Paul clearly states that the Corinthians will not be judged if they judge themselves. His logic here seems to be: Judge yourselves so that the Lord will not have to. Our goal must be to judge the sin in our own lives before God has to expose it. We must humble ourselves before we are humbled or humiliated. I don’t know about you, but I have enough issues in my life to keep me busy.

Yet, we are so good at judging others. Some of us look down on people who listen to worldly music, watch R-rated movies, drink alcohol, dance, play cards, spend money on things we wouldn’t buy, etc. The ability to see sin in others and ignore it in your own heart is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a Pharisee, and being a Pharisee is so easy. It’s great to make rules to guide our own behavior, but when we extend those rules to everyone around us, we’re in danger of becoming pharisaical.

A second truth is found in 11:32 where Paul writes, “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” The verbs “judged” and “disciplined” are both present tense verbs indicating on-going activity. This suggests that the goal of God’s discipline is remedial. This is the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is for the good of another; punishment is to extract a pound of flesh. God disciplines us because He is a loving Father (Heb 12:5-11). He desperately wants our good.

One man asked his middle child how he knew the father loved him. He was shocked with his response. He said, “Dad, I know that you love me because you always discipline me.” This is the fruit of fatherhood. God knows our biological children will never mature apart from biblical discipline. Likewise, God disciplines us so that we will mature spiritually. Apart from His discipline we will never mature. And if we are not disciplined, the Bible indicates that we are illegitimate children (Heb 12:8). Hence, we should welcome discipline as a sign that a loving Father cares about us.

Scripture speaks of three levels of God’s chastening, or discipline:

  • Plan A—Internal Chastening. In this level, God deals with us in our hearts and nobody knows it is happening except us. If God is disciplining you at this moment, that is the best way to have your problem solved. One of my daily prayers is, “Lord, humble me so that you don’t have to humble me.” If you and I can come to the place that God puts his finger on something, and you can say, “Thank you, Lord, for loving me this much,” you are judging yourself. If this level of discipline is not effective, God moves to…
  • Plan B—External Chastening. In this level the consequences of our sin become obvious because God’s discipline goes public. This is where Jonah ran from the Lord, and God chastened him. He was not weak or sick. Plan B led to being swallowed by the fish. Had Jonah not surrendered to God’s will the second time, God had another plan. If this second level of discipline fails, God will up the ante.
  • Plan C—Terminal Chastening. In this level, God calls the believer home prematurely.

The proper course of action from the Corinthians should be to honor and respect their fellow believers. Paul concludes this passage in 11:33-34 with these words: “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.” The verb “come together” harkens back to 11:17 and serves to bracket this unit. Paul then provides a direct answer to the issues raised in 11:21. Instead of some gorging themselves while others go hungry, each should share what they have, and all should eat together. In this way the Corinthians reflect the unity of the body (“they judge rightly,” 11:29), and avert the judgment of God.

The phrase translated “wait for one another” more likely means “welcome one another.” If the Corinthians merely “wait for one another” the problem at hand is not corrected. The crisis in Corinth is that the poor are without food. The rich “waiting” for the poor to arrive and then partaking together will not remedy this difficulty. Fortunately, this translation issue is ironed out when it is recognized that when ekdechomai (“wait for”) is used of persons, it usually means “to take or receive from another” or “to entertain.” In this specific context, it seems appropriate that Paul’s command should be translated, “Care for one another!” “Receive one another warmly!” “Grant one another table fellowship!” “Show hospitality to one another!” Thus, in this context Paul is perhaps instructing the Corinthians, as his summary statement, to receive each other as equal members of the body of Christ.

The command to “eat at home” connects to Paul’s first warning that the Corinthians are worse off for having gathered together (11:17). If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay at home. If the church’s gathering is to be meaningful it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.

Paul’s words in Rom 12:10 sum up this entire passage: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” God is dead serious about His body, so may we live out the Scriptures in obedience to Him.