Sorry, no audio this week.
1 Corinthians 12.1-27, with John 17.20-24 and Psalm 133
Over the past couple weeks, we have looked at two specific themes that are necessary dimensions to unwrapping the gift of God in our lives. First: emptiness. To unwrap God’s gift, we have to create room in our lives and in our souls. Second: courage. To unwrap God’s gift requires an act of courage. And we looked at the refrain unfolding throughout the biblical story: Be strong, be courageous, and act.
But what is the gift itself? I said, each week, that God has a gift for us. What is it? We know it’s not another new sweater. It’s not movie tickets, or an electronic device, or fine dining. The most important way to describe this gift is that it is God-self – the Father’s approval and becoming part of the family; Jesus Christ offered for us, broken body, poured out blood, upon the cross; the Holy Spirit filling us with love and life. That’s the gift, and that’s the first and most important calling that God offers us – to live that gift every day, at work, in the neighborhood, with our family.
At the same time, there are specific and particular gifts for us, gifts that are unique to each of us. One dimension of this is what the Scripture calls "spiritual gifts", unique "manifestations" of the present of the Spirit of God in our lives. For many of us, this is an entirely new thing. Note that Paul writes, "I do not want you to be uniformed" (1Co 12.1). In some translations, the wording is a bit more assertive: "I do not want you to be ignorant" (see Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians).
The funny thing about this opening remark, at least in the context of the passage itself, is that the Corinthians did not consider themselves to be ignorant. They considered themselves spiritual experts, they felt they were better than other people, better than other followers of Jesus, because they were so spiritual – so spiritual that they were like the angels (Fee, 571-573). "If I speak in the [languages] of mortals and of angels" (1Co 13.1). They spoke in tongues, that is, in languages they had never studied or learned; they spoke in tongues a lot, and really abused the gift and each other (Fee).
So, there’s some satire involved. "You think you are experts. You’re really ignorant. Let me set you straight."
We read this today and we get all kinds of misunderstandings. First of all, most of us don’t consider ourselves to be so spiritual that we are level with the angels. Second, most of us don’t have a lot of experience with this gift of tongues, and if we do it is likely that it is uncomfortable experience – unless we’ve got some background in a healthy Pentecostalism. Because of these things, Paul’s message may not hit home with us personally. However, it remains an important message for us and we can read Paul’s opening line, "I do not want you to be uninformed" in a straightforward and non-satirical way, reminding us that we need to "get" some of what Paul is saying, that there is something here for us, not just for the Corinthians.
Here’s where this word hits home for most of us. Here’s what we need to "get", the "take-away" for the day:
There are no special privileges in the body of Christ; leaders serve
"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.... Not so with you, rather ... the leader [must become] like one who serves.... I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22.25-27)
Being gifted does not make us exceptional
There are no nobodies in the body of Christ;
we all have a gift to share
Lacking a particular gift or gifts does not make us less necessary
Christian spiritual life is measured by our Confession (not our giftedness)
Jesus is Lord – radical and total obedience to the will of God
putting our Body at God’s disposal
"No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit" (1Co 12.3)
Membership vows: "confess Jesus as your Savior and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, races, and nations"
Christian spiritual life is lived in Community (not in isolation)
people, not angel beings
diversity: We are all different and have different gifts
equality: We have equal value
Leaders serve, they do not receive extra recognition
Every part of the body is necessary, there are no "vestigal organs"
No one is an "appendix" – only noticed when infected and needing to be cut out
individuality: No one is the same
"Individually a part", retain our identity
commonality: Our unique gifts are not for us alone, but the body
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood....
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
Roots of this speech:
The American Dream
the Beloved Community, the body of Christ as a new humanity
Spiritual gifts inventory (pdf available)We all have a gift to share with the larger body
Resources:Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians
MLK Jr., "I Have a Dream", available online