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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
January 16, 2022
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The congregation I served in Phoenix has a preschool, and on most Fridays I had Chapel Time with the kiddos. At some point each year, I sat with them in a circle and asked the question, “What are you good at?” And I went around the circle and gave each of them a chance to answer. Most of them said something like running, singing, coloring – that kind of stuff.
But one time when I asked that, one of the boys answered, “I’m good at winning.” And he was kind of quiet, so I wasn’t sure I heard him right.
But his teachers said, yes, that’s what he said. And yes, he is good at winning. Not just because he wins a lot at whatever he does, but because he’s a good sport about it and doesn’t rub it in the other kids’ faces.
Usually when we talk about gifts, we talk about them in terms of different people being good at doing different things because that’s just what we do. But we talk about spiritual gifts differently.
We tend to define being spiritual as either having charismatic or outgoing behavior during worship, or as being quiet and meditative. It’s almost always one of those two things, and we don’t tend to connect a person’s spirituality with the things they’re good at. But for the early Christians, spirituality was defined a bunch of different ways.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church community at Corinth, the people there knew they were good at all sorts of things, and they were proud of that and they enjoyed showing off. But they were doing it at the expense of individual people and at the expense of the group as a whole.
They’d lost sight of where their gifts had come from, and they’d also fallen into the trap of thinking that some were better than others. So Paul wrote them a letter to put them back on the right track. And in the part of the letter we read this morning, he tells them the right way and the wrong way to use their gifts.
He starts by reminding them that the primary work of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is to create the faith that allows people to say that Jesus is Lord. For that reason alone, every person who believes in Jesus can also believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in them because it’s true. We cannot believe in Jesus without the direct work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes on to remind the community that the work of the Spirit in each person is rooted in grace. In other words, the gifts that the Spirit gave to each of them, the things they did and loved, flowed directly out of God’s grace. What that meant was that no one was ignored or left out – that everyone receives gifts from the Spirit, and no one was spiritually superior to anyone else.
And Paul continues by saying that the Spirit does all of this not for the benefit of the individual believer, but for the benefit of the entire community. No single person receives all of the Spirit’s gifts. And the Spirit works through every single person for the good of the community.
Where the people of Corinth got tripped up is that they used their spiritual gifts to make themselves look good as individuals. In a manner of speaking, they held onto their gifts instead of using them for the good of the people around them.
But more than that, the way they’d been using their Spirit-given gifts wasn’t only not benefiting the community, it was damaging it. And for Paul, it was critical that they understand that their gifts, their abilities, were meant to be used for the good of the community.
In other words, they had to look beyond their own spiritual gifts, and recognize not only that everyone else had spiritual gifts, but also that they had to identify and celebrate those gifts.
Because if they didn’t acknowledge and celebrate other people’s spiritual gifts, they wouldn’t see the Holy Spirit at work, and that would eventually destroy the community. In a roundabout way, what Paul basically said was, “There’s more to what you can do than what people see, because the things you’re able to do connect you to God – because they’re from God.”
When we think about it that way, spirituality and spiritual gifts take on a much broader meaning.
God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is at work in each of us. Each one of us – every single person in here and worshiping at home – has been given spiritual gifts rooted in God’s grace for the good of our community. And our community isn’t limited to this campus – or your home.
Whether it’s musical talent, athletic abilities, book smarts, street smarts, or something else – each of us has been given spiritual gifts for the good of our community. None of us has received all of the Spirit’s gifts, but the Spirit is working through each of us for the good of our community.
And no one’s gifts are better than anyone else’s, because the Spirit works through all of them – through all of us. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
What the Spirit’s work looks like in our community is as different as each of us. Sometimes it’s one person teaching another how to read or to play a musical instrument. Sometimes it’s someone coordinating meals to be taken somewhere, and sometimes it’s someone cooking the meals.
Sometimes it’s someone sharing new ideas for how to accomplish a task or meet a set of goals. And sometimes it’s one person sharing life lessons with another based on personal experience. You see where I’m going with this – the list really is endless.
When we identify and celebrate these abilities for the Spirit-given gifts that they are, we recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in each other. And we come to understand that the things we’re able to do connect us to God, because they’re from God.
I had a conversation last week with a couple of people that I hadn’t talked with since probably October or November. As we were greeting each other, one asked, “Are we too far into the year to be able to say ‘Happy New Year’ to each other?” And we laughed.
Whether we are too far into the year to be able to say that or not, we’re still very much at the beginning of it. So, in the coming months, I invite you to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gifts God’s Spirit has given you. If you aren’t sure what they are, ask someone. Because you do have them.
If you know what yours are, I invite you to think about how you’re currently using them and ways that you might be able to use them differently.
Whether you know what your Spirit-given gifts are, or whether you’re just discovering them, recognize that God’s Spirit is at work in you. Even on the days you can’t see it for yourself. We know this because the gifts we’re given aren’t for ourselves, but for the good of our community.
And when we recognize them and celebrate them in each other, we see the grace that they’re rooted in. And we remember that they connect us to God, because they come from God. And for that we say – Thanks be to God! Amen.