Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
I would like to start with a trick. *Does trick*. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it ‘nice trick’? Or is it ‘nice magician’? It seems like when most people see something done or performed, these are the two thoughts that will pop into their mind. They either focus on the act or they focus on the person. It is the same with Church. When a sermon is delivered, we think ‘good sermon’ or ‘good speaker’; or when somebody is charitable, we think ‘what a wonderful gift’ or ‘what a wonderful person.’ Today, we want to add a third perspective, which is the most important perspective when it comes to matters dealing with a Church or a Christian. What is the perspective? When we see something done or something performed, we see the Spirit at work. When I performed the trick, has it crossed your mind that there is an original inventor or teacher of the trick? The third perspective besides ‘nice trick’ or ‘nice magician’ is ‘good inventor’ or ‘good teacher’. But more important when it comes to a sermon or a charitable act or something kind or something edifying, before we can think of ‘good act’ or ‘good Christian’, we must learn today that we must first think of ‘good God’ or ‘good Spirit’. If we do that, and we recognize that behind all the gifts and services and activities happening in Church, it is God at work, then it would surely transform the way we perceive those around us, and the way we see ourselves.
But what does it mean when we say that it is the Spirit that is behind the gifts and services and activities that we find in Church? Today, I will ask that we all memorize one important verse 1st Corinthians 12:7 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” This verse summarizes the 3 key aspects of the Spirit’s work that I want to highlight today.
Point 1: For the common good
Paul wants the Corinthians to be free from a very crucial ignorance. And that ignorance is that they can worship God the same way as they worship when they were pagans. There is a remarkable difference! You can worship Greek gods like Zeus or Venus or Chinese gods Goddess of Mercy or God of Wealth in the same way, in the sense that they are there to grant your wishes. Whichever it is that you desire, you approach the right one ‘in charge’ and worship accordingly. But it is drastically different when it comes to Christianity. When it comes to worship, you have to be given the Holy Spirit to worship. Because it is only when the Spirit is given, then you can say ‘Jesus is Lord’. And when the Spirit is given, then you cannot say ‘Jesus is cursed’, because that can never be the work of the Spirit.
Now let me explain that we are not speaking about vocal proclamation here. When we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, we are claiming his lordship over us. In the past, there were only two scenarios for this, either you were referring to Caesar the emperor or you were a servant referring to your owner. When we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, he is the one that is king over all other authorities. When we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, we are saying we are his servants to answer to his bidding and do his will. Such acknowledgment of Jesus sovereignty and such submission on our part is never easy. Our hearts are hard against transformation and our minds are dull to the true reality. Hence, it is only by the Spirit that it is possible for us to proclaim that ‘Jesus is Lord’. Those without the Spirit cannot claim Jesus’ lordship over them.
Similarly, nobody that is of the Spirit can say that ‘Jesus is cursed’. There are two ways to interpret this phrase. One, you are saying that you can heck care about Jesus. You have so much freedom and liberty that Jesus does not matter to you. Or you are saying that ‘Jesus gives a curse’. This is a popular way of using deities in the past. Idol worshippers rely on their deities to curse their enemies, hoping that their deities will bring misfortune to their targets. Both ways of interpretation sums up one thing about the person that makes such a proclamation. And that is the person’s self-agenda comes first. Jesus’ will is brushed aside or he is used as a tool to serve the person’s selfish objectives. If you are of the Spirit, you will never make such a proclamation or harbor such a thought.
What is Jesus’ will? It is to build up the kingdom of God, and the most visible form of it is the Church. Therefore, the ones that is of the Spirit, those that claim Jesus’ lordship over their self-agendas must put the kingdom of God, the holy community that is the Church, first. This is the only way to discern if a work or a person is of the Spirit or not. If it is of the Spirit, it is good for the Church. Jesus who is Lord wills it so. If it is not of the Spirit, then we see Jesus chucked aside or used for personal gratification. Paul uses a simple phrase ‘for the common good’ to clearly spell out what it means to say that a work or a person is spiritual.
How does this truth impact our Christian living? Many times we differentiate what is spiritual from what is not, by judging whether it is supernatural or not. Sometimes, we also judge by the results, if it is ‘abnormally’ successful, or whether the work is ‘Christian-like’. Now we know all these don’t matter in the discernment of what is spiritual. We know a work is the Spirit’s work if the motive and the purpose is for the good of the Church, and we know it is not when it serves selfish gains. What matters is if the work done is ‘Christ-like’. This is because the Spirit is all about the lordship of Christ. What you do don’t matter as much as why you do and who you do it for. And the first point is: for the common good.
Point 2: The manifestation of the Spirit
There are many things going on in a Church. There are displays of gifts, acts of services and lots of activities. To the naked eye, they may seem worlds apart. Yet, from the exuberant passionate worship leading to the sorrowful silent wake service, from the artistic meticulous decorations to the diligent down-to-earth toilet cleaning and from the serious brain-burning bible study to the wild nerve-wrecking fun and games, these are all manifestation of the same Spirit. The same one Spirit! It is shocking indeed! There are so many different kinds, but all originating just from one. It is shocking, but not surprising. That is because this is the very nature of God himself. The manifold manifestation of Spirit should not surprise us because God himself is manifested to us in this manner. God the father, creator of heaven and earth, sustainer of all life, righteous and holy; Jesus the son, humble and meek, lover of sinners, died a man on the Cross; the Holy Spirit, personal yet universal, powerful yet in obedience, transforming yet unchanging; such different properties and attributes, but yet one God who we worship.
There are two significances in this. One, we must recognize the unity that is present in all these many seemingly different things. They may be different, but they all profess one thing, that it is the same Spirit that is manifested. We may belong to different ministries; different cell groups, different languages and backgrounds, and these differences are real. But we cannot really speak of different status, different levels of importance, different final objectives because at the very core, the very essence that makes all these possible, it is the same Spirit. The Corinthians thought that the different ways they experience God makes that special and unique, Paul reminds that that it is precisely because they are different that they are really the same and must remain in unity. The same Spirit is the one that works through all.
I have truly experienced this in my participation at the Presbyterian Synod youth council. We arrived at a creed that we all sincerely commit to. “All for one and one for all.” Our youth ministries may be totally different in the way we operate. We have different backgrounds, sometimes different theological training. But we are all willing to sacrifice our own time to serve the needs of others because we believe it is the same Spirit at work in all the different ministries. When one of the council members had to leave because she is married overseas, she wrote this: “It has been great working with you guys. I am really blessed by the 'one for all, all for one' spirit, and the simple desire to serve. It's great that there isn't any politics here; we don't have to second guess one another, nor put up our defense with one another. You guys are great!!! :) Thanks for being a blessing in my life.” I felt really touched because I feel the same way. It is my desire that all ministries and cells recognize this: that it is the same Spirit we depend on, making us united as one.
The second significance is that however different the gifts, services and activities, they are all manifestations of the Spirit. And since they are manifestations of the Spirit, they must be honored and glorified as such. They manifest the Spirit! It is not only when it is holy-like or Christian-like that we think the Spirit is manifested. We especially must refrain from overly extolling the super-natural from the mundane. As long as deeds are done for the common good, they reflect Christ-likeness and that is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. That means we are witnessing the presence of God. Think about it. If we have been belittling some people or some groups because what they do are “beneath” our status, we need to reexamine our thoughts. We are not giving due respect to what the Spirit is manifesting through these people’s lives.
There are many examples I can think of, but one thing I would like to share today is youth ministry. It is said that teenagers are the most obnoxious, self-centered, unreasonable bunch of people created by God. Children are cute and naive and we can generally forgive what they do, and adults can conduct themselves and are self-assured. But teenagers... ... One parent says, “God is good. He gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers.” Another said, “You can tell a child is growing up when he starts refusing to tell where he is going.” Joking aside, this phase of the human life is essential for a child to become an adult. Their brain develops rapidly and their need to develop an identity drives them into extreme self-consciousness and individual awareness. My point is that it is therefore understandable that not many people are keen to work in a ministry at a stage where the audience is there learning to challenge authority, assert responsibility and discover raging hormones. However, when you see people willing to spend time with the youths, drinking coffee, talking pop culture and kicking soccer, they may not be doing holy and 'spiritual', but in their care and concern, they are manifesting the holy Spirit. I use youth ministry as an example, but it is the same with other activities in Church as well.
Point 3: To each one is given
Point 1 is to say that the way to tell if a gift or service or activity is spiritual is to see if it is for the common good. Point 2 is to say that all these activities are manifestations of the Spirit, and we must recognize them as such. Point 3 is to say that everyone of us has the potential ability to contribute. As a Christian, the Spirit is in us, and its empowerment is there for us to receive. “One person is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit; another, a word of knowledge by the same Spirit; another, faith through the same Spirit; another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit; another, the workings of mighty deeds; another, prophecy; another, the ability to distinguish spirits; another, various kinds of languages; another, the interpretation of languages.” We will have in depth discussion on prophecy and tongues in chapter 14 so I will leave that for future discussion. The key word I want to emphasize today is 'another'. The way Paul is writing is that the list is not exhaustive. It is another and another and another until the very last Christian that is willing to be used by the Spirit for the good of the Christian community. And every 'another' will have something new and complimentary from the Spirit to add to the Church. It is the same Spirit that manifest himself in a different way in another Christian. It is hence important that there is not jealousy or comparison or overly intentional mimicry and imitation. I for one am extremely glad that in Jubilee, the pastors preach in different ways, the worship leaders have different styles and the cell groups have different dynamics. This is unity in diversity.
One important truth that must be emphasized is that everyone has something from the holy Spirit to give. This something is given by the Spirit so there should be no pride or hoarding of the gift because it starts from the grace of God. What is given in free grace should be exercised in free grace. Everyone must seek and ask and contribute. My friend who is another pastor in another Church has this policy there. All Christians must be serving, the only people not serving are the new-comers. But the moment you accept Christ and receive the holy Spirit, there is surely something that you can serve. You don't need a 'baptism of the Spirit' and speaking in tongues to show that you have the Spirit and a true Christian. You know when you start to serve in love and the Spirit is manifested through you. If you are a Christian you have no excuse not to serve.
I would like to conclude this with a look to the past. When we look at Church history, we see 'great deeds' and 'great people', but today we add a new perspective, we say 'great God'. We identify which is the work of the Spirit when we see the Church build up in the process. And they are very different: from the suffering martyrs to the triumphant evangelists, from those who fight with their swords to those who defend with their words. Everybody has a role to play and they all manifest what uniqueness the Spirit freely gives. What about you?