Today we're going to talk about Spirituality – I think I'm right in saying that for most of us that's a vague concept conjuring up images of new age book shops, crystals and incense, or Maharaja's and gurus, or mysterious spiritual going's on. For some of us that whole realm of experiences is just written off as a global hoax – science exposes the whole thing as a shame… but for a growing number of people in our society the idea of tapping into spiritual realities is seriously exciting. So we see a rise in things like magic, dabbling in the occult, pagan and eastern spiritualities, even animism, witchcraft and Satanism. And where do we fall on that spectrum? Do we rule out all spiritual experiences? Do we seek spiritual experiences? Is there such a thing as a Christian spirituality?
Well the situation in Corinth was a little bit similar to our situation today, except they were heading in the opposite direction – the members of the church in Corinth had been pagan, they'd been born into all that stuff, but they'd come out of it when they learnt about Jesus. Yet there were lingering effects of their past, and disagreement over what constituted Christian spirituality. So Paul turns now in Chapter 12 to address this question. And he'll stick to this topic for three whole chapters. Straight away we can see this is important. The church was struggling with gross sexual sin, deep divisions, law suits among believers, all kinds of serious things – but none of those got the sustained attention spirituality gets in these three chapters.
So what's the issue? It seems that there were divisions around the use of spiritual gifts. This will come into clearer focus in chapter 14 regarding speaking in tongues. But Paul doesn't come at it directly, instead he spends two chapters putting it into it's proper context of diversity within unity in the church and the singular importance of Love.
So we start this week with as wide a focus as possible, and the big idea can be summarised as:
Christian spirituality centres on serving Jesus as God gives gifts to all his people by his Spirit for the good of the church.
We'll see that in three sections in our passage this morning:
Vs 1-3 Christian Spirituality is Centred on Jesus
Vs 4-6 Christian Spirituality is as Diverse as it's Source: the Triune God;
Vs 7-12 Christian Spirituality Results in a Spread of Gifts for Everyone's Benefit.
So let's start with the first section:
Christian Spirituality is Centred on Jesus, vs. 1-3.
1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I tell you that no-one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no-one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
It may not be immediately obvious, but our topic here is not spiritual gifts as such, but spirituality. I know the text in front of you has a heading 'Spiritual Gifts' and is introduced with 'Now about Spiritual gifts…' but remember this is a translation. There are no headings in the original, that's an editors summary, so put that aside for a moment. And the word 'gifts' isn't in the original; the original literally says: 'now about the spirituals, brothers I do not want you to be ignorant'.
So what's 'the spirituals'? It could mean spiritual gifts and in chapter 14 Paul uses the same expression where gifts are clearly in view. But equally Paul uses the same expression in chapter 3.1 where he says 'I could not describe you as spiritual'. So we need to look at the context for help. And the immediate context is about spirituality, spiritual things in their widest sense. Look at verse 2: 'You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.' That's a reminder of their pagan spirituality, not specifically about gifts, but about Spiritual things, spiritual experiences, spiritual powers that we may be ignorant of, but that they personally experienced in their old way of life as pagans. So I take it Paul means to start with a wide angle and only narrow in on particular gifts in chapter 14.
So if the topic is spirituality, what is he saying about it? Paul says three things here:
First, verse one spirituality is important. He does not want them to be ignorant. And the reason why is clear from verse 2: because there are spiritual powers that can lead us astray.
However sceptical we may be the implication is very clear: there are spiritual realities, and they have power to influence us. We dabble at our peril. Of course there are also fakes, I'm not saying everything that claims to be miraculous is, just that there are spiritual realities and powers, and they can enslaved us.
In just about every society in every time and every place people have been in thrall to gods of one description or another. And it's slavery, people are caught up in worship that leads them to all kinds of silliness, even gross evil – they put on silly clothes and perform bizarre rituals, they dance naked in the moon light, beat drums and cut themselves. And people offer up their own children as sacrifices. The gods they worship are false, the promises they make are illusionary. But there is power there, in some cases the power of demons to do false miracles; and in all cases the power to ensnare people in a lie.
These Corinthians know that, that was their past, they knew what it was like to be led along, probably literally in ecstatic experiences.
And so on to the other thing that Paul says here – there are false spiritualities, and there is true Christian spirituality. And it's not what we're expecting. It's not esoteric, it's not mystical and overtly 'spiritual'. True Christian spirituality is giving ourselves to Jesus as our Lord. That's verse three – no one can say 'Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Paul's not just talking about saying a set of words, but about living the Christian confession. It's not possible to confess Jesus as Lord, that is, to become a Christian, without the Holy Spirit. No one 'can' say – it's not possible, no one has power to live with Jesus as Lord without the Spirit of God.
It's important we're clear about this: conversion is being baptised in the Holy Spirit, they're different ways of talking about the same thing. When we're converted the Holy Spirit joins us to Jesus so that we become his, and he becomes ours, his death is our death, his life is our life. We die to self and live for him; We are born again by the Spirit (John 3) and without the spirit no one is born again.
And notice being baptised in the Spirit is about responding rightly to Jesus, about living under his rule. Christian Spirituality is our whole lives, lived for Jesus, it's about giving our lives to him.
And since there are deceitful spirits we know them by their disdain for Jesus – no one who has the Spirit of God working in them will curse Jesus, but will love and honour him.
Do you see what this does for us? In our world when it comes to spirituality the question we ask is how can we tell if it's real or if it's fake? But Paul says that's not the right question. There are powers at work even in false spirituality. There are miracles that do not come from God, and there are miracles that do come from him. The key question isn't 'is there power there?' the question is, 'does it lead us to Jesus?' Now this immediately rules out non Christian spiritualities, the new age, paganism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormanism and all the rest – they don't lead us to Jesus, they don't honour Jesus as Lord and God – so they fall short of Christian spirituality. We can rule them out, they're not true spirituality, there is power there, but it's not from God, don't go there.
But see how it also undermines the claims of some apparently Christian ministries that centre on men and women who clearly live for money or power or adulation and not for Jesus. There have always been wolves in sheep's clothing – remember Jesus' words in Matt 7.22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
He doesn't deny that they will do miracles, but still they're not his, the power didn't come from Jesus. So don't be taken in by the show of power, look at the focus – is the ministry all 'look at me' (I'll be your god), is it 'God wants you to be rich' (money is your god) or is it actually all about Jesus (Jesus is God)? We need to be discerning, we can't afford to be ignorant about these matters or we will be taken in.
So Christian spirituality is about responding rightly to Jesus. But the Corinthians were associating the Holy Spirit exclusively with one particular set of gifts. So we also need to know that Christian spirituality is as diverse as the God we serve.
Vs 4-6 Christian Spirituality is as Diverse as it's Source: the Triune God;
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
The point is pretty clear here – there are different kinds of gifts, service and work, but they come from the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. There is a great variety, a great diversity in God's design, but there is only One God who stands behind it all. This shouldn't surprise us, because our God is three in one– Father, Son and Holy Spirit – even within himself God delights in diversity and variety. And so it is in God's church, God has no desire for a uniform group of clones, but he's made us all individuals, all different, all for his glory. So in God's design he gifts us all differently for all kinds of different service which he gives us to do.
And I want you to notice the great diversity of things that Paul includes here under the heading of Spirituality. Verse four talks about different types of gifts – fair enough. But notice verse 5 these spiritual gift are paralleled with service. That doesn't sound particularly spiritual does it? Do you mean things like teaching the children out the back, serving the tea and coffee, welcoming at the door – that's not spiritual is it? Paul says it is, if it's service offered to the church, to God's people, then it's spiritual. And notice verse 6 – there are different types of working, but God works all of them in all men. Again this widens the categories. It includes all our labours, whatever work we do for God, we do in the power of God, he works in us to enable it. And therefore it falls into the category of Christian spirituality.
So hear this: spirituality isn't just me and my private experience of something mysterious or powerful. It's me and you loving and serving each other because we love and serve God. We saw something similar in our OT reading. Exodus 35.31 says 'The Lord has filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship'. Did you see that – this is explicitly a work of God by his spirit – to make this Bezalel gifted in making jewellery, in sowing, embroidery and cabinet making. Not what we would immediately think of as spiritual gifts. But these were the gifts that enabled the construction of the tabernacle and so enabledIsrael's worship of God. Likewise God has given us spiritual gifts – not necessarily spectacular powers to do mysterious and spooky things; but all that we need to serve each other and so enable our worship of God. Even very mundane things can be spiritual gifts, if they are put to use for the good of the church.
InCorinththey were arguing about who had the spirit of God on the basis of who had particular gifts. Paul says forget that, it's not one size fits all. All kinds of gifts come from God by his Spirit – they're all different, but that just reflects God's character.
How can we illustrate this? Well Paul's about to illustrate it by pointing to our complex bodies – within which there is immense diversity of parts and functions, all combining to form one body. It's brilliant, but I'm going to be preaching on that in a couple of weeks, so I can't use that today. So instead let me just point you to 'outside'. Have you ever seen two identical clouds? Two identical trees or flowers or mountains or planets or people? Think of all the things God has made – he makes them all unique, every single one. We live in a galaxy with 300 billions stars, itself one of billions, or possibly trillions of galaxies. And I bet you they're all different. God doesn't run a production line for every daisy, he makes them all unique, all beautiful, wonderful. Every blade of grass is different, every snow flake. So why would we expect church to be any different? God gifts us all individually, uniquely. When we get to heaven we'll all be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, and we'll still be unique individuals – every nation, language, tribe and tongue will be in heaven – we won't be made into clones, we'll be us, transformed into glory. Heaven will be full of every imaginable person, and we'll all be different, just as God designed us to be.
So no boasting about gifts, and no looking down on others either. It's not a competition; variety is a brilliant blessing from God. I've got my gifts and you've got yours, and we should both thank God for that.
And it's not just about reflecting God's glory, it's also about providing for everybody's needs, and that's what the last section is about.
Vs 7-12 Christian Spirituality Results in a Spread of Gifts for Everyone's Benefit.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
The key verse here is verse 7, which is like a heading over the rest. Three points are clear. First all Christians have gifts from the Spirit – they're given to each one; no one misses out, it's not a case of have's and have not's like they seem to have thought. Secondly, gifts are manifestations of the work of the Spirit within us – the Spirit's working made clear as he makes us more like Jesus. And thirdly whatever gifts there may be they are not given first and foremost for the one who has them, but for the common good – they're for all of us.
So the focus of this passage is not on the gifts per see, but on the common gifting by the Spirit for the common good. Verse 12 sums the whole thing up with an illustration – we're united in our differences, just like a body where each part is different, but together they form the one body.
So Paul's point seems to be to say don't get too hung up on the gifts, certainly not on any one specific gift. The Spirit works in all sorts of ways, however diverse the gifts, the same Spirit stands behind them all. So whatever gifts you have, put them to use as they were intended for the good of everyone.
Do you see how this vision of God's work in them confronts their selfish, proud, boastful agenda? Last week we heard how the rich used their riches selfishly and excluded the poor. But even their wealth is a gift from God, it should be used for the good of the body, for building others up, not for humiliating them. So it is for every spiritual gift. God works in each of us for the good of all of us, so whatever you have, whatever God has given you, put it to use for the good of everyone.
It's as if you could think of the church as like a great big food collective. God gifts each of us with something we can use to contribute to the whole. One produces potatoes, another beans and carrots; another produces lamb and another beef and still another produces wine and another juice. On our own we may enjoy the gifts we have been given, but they don't constitute a full meal, and they're not given to us for our exclusive use. It's only when we bring it all together that get something really useful, something satisfying, a balanced meal. That's how to get the most out of the gifts, and that's what they're given for, so we can all benefit, together.
So don't rate people by their gifts, just as last week we heard we shouldn't rate people be job or family or background. Every gift is useful, necessary in God's good design.
And don't think you're anything special if God has given spectacular gifts, it's not about you, it didn't come from you, but from God, it's a gift, not something you deserve.
And don't hold your gifts back for yourself, but use them for the church – have you got gifts in making money? – don't make yourself rich, enrich the church; have you got gifts in administration? Can you sing and make music, can you teach children, can you enrich our teaching…. We need all the gift God has given us. Right now we've abundant opportunities to teach the children, to lead the music, to serve in any number of ways. Has God given you gifts that you need to put to use so that the body can benefit?
So what do we conclude– spirituality is important, and a topic that we need to get our head around so that we won't be confused or led astray. The big picture is this – spirituality doesn't mean impressive acts of power or ecstatic experiences or mystical weirdness per see; first and foremost Christian Spirituality means living with Jesus as Lord. If we submit to Jesus as Lord and put our faith in him then we are joined to him by the Holy Spirit, his Spirit comes to live in us and goes to work in our hearts to equip us for service in the church. For some that might mean that the Spirit gives gifts that appear other worldly, like tongues and healing, for others there may be the gift of speaking in another language to aid communication, or the gift of becoming a doctor to use worldly means to heal people – but whether other worldly or mundane all our skills and abilities can be called spiritual only if they are in the service of Christ, which means they will be used for the building up of the body. True Christian Spirituality means to lay down our own lives in the service of others for the glory of God. So do you want to be spiritual? Get on with serving God among his people and he will make you more and more into the likeness of Jesus.