Spiritual Gifts and the Church

(from the Sermon: Body of Christ -pt. 1, 1 Cor. 12. Starts at 24:34 – 50:00.)

When it comes to the use of spiritual gifts, we often think in terms of serving the church. We talk about serving the church by teaching Sunday School or becoming a trustee, which promotes the idea that God gives us gifts so we can serve the church.

Well, yes; that’s true. But we mustn’t miss the more important reason God gave us gifts: to serve the Lord Jesus. The gifts are not, first of all, so that individuals can serve the church but so that the church can serve the savior. The purpose of the gifts, as we will see in the coming weeks, is to make possible through us the actions of the Son by the Spirit to fulfill the intentions of the Father.

When people think solely in terms of serving the church, they often feel their part is small and not especially important. Or they think that their part goes unnoticed and start feeling they are being taken for granted. Either way, that kind of thing is hard to avoid when we think that what we are doing is all for the church.

It is better (and more in line with Scripture) not to think we are doing something for the church but that we are the church doing something for the Lord. We are not functioning for the body, as if we were not a part of it. We are the body.

Third, notice the wording of verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Paul does not say that each gift – whether prophecy or tongues or service or teaching – is given for the common good, but the “manifestation of the Spirit” is given for the common good. What blesses a church, transforms an individual, makes a Sunday School class life-changing, encourages the discouraged and upholds the floundering is not the gift but the God who gives it. The gift is given so that the manifestation of the Spirit can occur; that is, so that God can show up among us. That’s why our focus shouldn’t be on the gift but on the Giver.

Finally, this passage (and the sum of the teaching on the Body of Christ) makes it abundantly clear that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. It is not all up to you or to me. But by design at least one thing is up to you and up to me. We can’t do everything. We needn’t do everything. We shouldn’t do everything. But we can do something, need to do something, and ought to do something. Verse 11 teaches that the Spirit has given a gift to each of us. Each of us. And each gift is given for a purpose. Each gift counts. Each has a place in Jesus’s operation through the church.

On a July night in 1969, our family was finishing out a vacation. I came in from a motel pool just in time to watch – can you guess (July 1969)? – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step out of the lunar module and walk – and jump – across the surface of the moon.

The pilot for that historic flight was Michael Collins. He said, “All this is possible only through the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of people… All you see are the three of us, but underneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others.” It’s been estimated that there were about 400,000 people who helped in some way on the Apollo 11 mission.

There were radio telescope operators and parachute designers. There were 17,000 engineers. There were mechanics, soldiers, and contractors who set up the missile for launch. There were guys in Houston monitoring how much fuel the lunar module was using during descent. There was a 24-year-old “computer whiz kid” who worked through software glitches in real time. There were programmers who wrote the code. Approximately 500 people worked on the space suits, including a seamstress who said, “We didn’t worry too much until the guys on the moon started jumping up and down.”

All those people. No wonder Neil Armstrong said that when he stepped onto the moon he thought about the thousands of people who made that step possible.

None of us can do it all, any more than Neil Armstrong could fly to the moon on his own. But we do need to do our part, just like that seamstress. (Imagine if she hadn’t done her part!) When we do our part, something amazing happens, which Paul calls “the manifestation of the Spirit.” God shows up. And when he does, good things happen.

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