Saturday, 17 January 2015

on spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues

1 Corinthians 12.1-13


We are looking for the next few weeks at 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 and at spiritual gifts.

Paul does not want us to be ‘uninformed’ about the gifts

1. He begins this chapter by speaking of the heart of the spiritual person.

1 Cor 12.1 literally says ‘And now concerning the spiritual (people, gifts, things)’

People talk a great deal about being spiritual. It can mean that they are into yoga or dowsing or Gregorian chant or angels or they claim to be particularly sensitive or open to the world beyond our senses.

But that is not what Paul understands here as spiritual.

At the centre of the true spiritual person is a heart that worships Jesus Christ as Lord (v3).

What we have here is a line. At one end are those people who declare that Jesus is cursed. They look at the Jesus Christ who we read about in the bible, [they see one who allowed himself to be crucified in love for sinners, who offers forgiveness and invites his followers to live forgiveness, who speaks of obedience to and love for his Father in Heaven] – and they mock him and they curse him.

Charlie Hebdo has produced some mocking cartoons not just of the prophet Mohammed but also of Jesus. They are not the first. There is an early C2nd cartoon of a figure with an ass’s head hanging on a cross, and underneath are the words, Alexamenos worships his God.

At the other end of the line are those people who have been made alive by the Spirit. They look at the Jesus Christ who we read about in the bible, and they see one who in love for them, even though they were a sinner, died for them. And in gratitude they have asked him to come and live in their lives through his Spirit and they live for him and they worship him. They cry out ‘Jesus is Lord’.

[Nobody, says Paul, can do that if they do not have the Spirit of God living in them. In a few minutes we will say the creed, and we will say ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord’, and we can only say that with integrity through the Holy Spirit.]

The truly spiritual person is the person who has bowed down before Jesus Christ and said, ‘You are my Lord’. I will trust you and I will obey. I will go wherever you lead me, and do whatever you show me

But the declaration Jesus is Lord is not just a statement of belief. It is also a declaration of worship. So we sing ‘Jesus is Lord, creations voice proclaims it’.

 
2. He talks of varieties of spiritual gifts, services and activities.

I struggled with these verses, because I found myself trying to work out what is the difference between a natural gift and a spiritual gift.

There are some who say that natural gifts are what we have received through genetics and/or training (good at maths, at music, at running, at speaking or teaching) – and that spiritual gifts are what we receive when we become believers and the Holy Spirit comes into us.

I’m not convinced by that distinction, and when I looked again at these verses I find that they speak of particular gifts, but they also speak of ways of operating.

‘There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone’ (vv4-6)

In other words Paul is speaking not only of gifts, but of the very way that God works in the person who calls Jesus ‘Lord’.

So if we have bowed before Jesus as Lord, then the Holy Spirit will both shape how we use the gifts and talents that we already have, and the Holy Spirit will also give us new gifts – gifts that it seems are specifically to do with building up each other as we worship God, as we call Jesus ‘Lord’.

You have a gift of music. We talk of it as a gift, because you did nothing to deserve it. As a child you develop and grow that gift through practice. You use the gift because it makes you feel good; you feel fulfilled when you play; people praise you for the way that you play. At times you use your gift for the community. You go into a dementia unit and play for them. And then you meet God, and you call Jesus Lord, and you give him every part of yourself. And you begin to think, ‘How can I use my gift to help worship him?’ How can I allow God to both use my gift and to work in and through my gift?

I’ve spoken before about the difference between Madonna and Dana. Both were asked if they prayed. Madonna said, Yes. She prayed. She got her crew around her before a concert in a group huddle and she prayed, ‘God make them love me’. Dana said that before she went on stage she would pray, ‘God, glorify your name through me today’.

I’ve spoken about music. But there are many others.

I think of Jon Warnock, and his ability with football. And how God has taken and used that for Sporting 87 – and how he has taken the willingness of Christians to commit themselves to coaching the football teams, for Christ.

And for those of us who are both tone-deaf and have two left feet, the bible speaks of gifts such as hospitality, leadership, administration, service. They are gifts, natural abilities or talents that we already have, but when we become Christians we bring them under the Lordship of Christ. We recognise that they really are a gift – a gift from him – and we use them for Jesus and we use them in his strength

 
3. What about the new gifts that we might receive (vv8-10)? 

When we become Christians God gives us new gifts.

This is not the definitive list.

Paul is trying to correct an over-emphasis in the Corinthian church on speaking in tongues.

And as we read the commentaries we realise that people disagree on some of what these are.

But as we read verses 7-11 I wonder whether we are to think of a small group, meeting to learn and pray and worship together.

And as they talk about the passage someone has done some preparation, and they share what they have learnt. Another comes up with an insight that makes sense of it all; as they pray another speaks something that they could not possibly have known – but it is spot on relevant for one of the people there.

Another then says, ‘I think we should be praying specifically for this’. Others say, ‘But that is impossible’. ‘No’, she insists, ‘I think God is going to do something here’. Another person prays for someone to be healed and, even to their astonishment, that person is healed. Maybe another tells the group about something astonishing that happened during the week: they prayed and God worked in an incredibly powerful way.

Another speaks and says that they think God is speaking and wants to say this.

This is the Word of God. But that does not mean that God does not speak in other ways. Prophecy is the speaking of the word of God into a particular situation. But we do need to be careful here, and humble. I like the story of the person who said. God says, ‘I will raise you up in a fiery chariot like I raised Isaiah’. There was a bit of a pause and then the person added, ‘God says, ‘I got it wrong, it was Elijah’.

Maybe we should be saying, ‘I think God may be saying this ..’. Of course prophecy can be abused or trivialised, but we must not reject it.  And don’t dismiss preaching. At its best, preaching is prophetic. It is about the applying of the word of God to a particular situation. And just because someone has spent time thinking and praying through what they think God is saying, it does not make it less spiritual than someone standing up on the spur of the moment. Spontaneity is not the only criteria of authenticity.

And then there is the gift of discernment. It might be someone else says, ‘I went there, or met so and so, or heard this and I was quite uncomfortable: Help me think it through and perhaps we need to pray about what is dark there.’

And what about the gift of tongues? In our community here we don’t speak much about tongues. We don’t want to over-emphasise them. They are the least of the gifts. But our danger is that we under-emphasise a very precious gift. And tongues are useful. Quite a number of people here speak in tongues. I speak in tongues. I use them occasionally in my personal prayer, especially when I really don’t know what else to pray. I say God has given me a baby language to pray in, and I trust that as I pray in tongues his Spirit will pray in me. 

Tongues are not for special Christians. Tongues are for inadequate Christians, who can’t pray. So pray and ask God to give you the gift, and then open your mouth and begin to speak. Most of the time this gift is to be used privately, but very occasionally, in your small group, it might be right to speak out loud in tongues, and it may be that God will give to one of the others a sudden understanding of what it is that you have said. At least that is how I understand the interpretation of tongues.

The point about all of these gifts is that they are given to build up the body of believers so that we glorify God. We are not all thinkers. We are not all feelers. We are not all activists. We are not all contemplatives. But if we are to worship God, to be the body of Christ, the church, we need each other. The thinkers need the feelers and the feelers need the thinkers. The activists need the contemplatives and the contemplatives need the activists.

So I finish by asking three simple questions.

1. Where are you on this line? Are you cursing Jesus both in your words and lifestyle, or are you declaring by your words and lives that Jesus is Lord?

2. How are you using the gifts or spheres of work that God has already given you? Have you submitted them to God and asked him to energise them by the Spirit so that they can be used for his glory?

3. Are you open to receive and to use these spiritual gifts? A good place to start is to ask God to give you the gift of tongues - and then open your mouth and try to speak in tongues. He may not give you that gift, but he will give you one of the greater gifts listed here: greater because they are more useful in building up the people of God so that we can louder and clearer together declare to heaven and the earth that Jesus is Lord.

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