March 15, 2020

Church Is Not a Spectator Sport

Dave Zuleger | 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.—1 Corinthians 12:1–11

Introduction: Church Is Not a Spectator Sport

In February, we highlighted the job description of elders to follow the lead of Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, to know our flocks deeply, speak to them clearly, and grow in our oversight of them. This month, as Pastor Jason mentioned last week, we are moving on to the role of the church members as a whole. The title of my sermon is “Church Is Not a Spectator Sport.” I realize the irony of that title as this pandemic has all of you literally watching from home today.

We can admit that this is a bit weird and that it is not how it is supposed to be—yet it is where God has us. And our text today is still relevant for this moment and for the moment when we can come together again. 

When I first planned this sermon, I wanted to highlight the difference between someone watching a game in the stands and someone playing out on the court. Now, oddly enough, we have a virus going around that caused all sorts of sporting events to be played with no one in the stands at all! Perhaps it is an appropriate picture of what the apostle Paul would call us to in this text. Everyone that is in the building is in the game! There are no spectators.

Paul calls us to full participation in the body of Christ. It is an odd time in the world and in so many ways most of us are in uncharted territory when it comes to life. Yet, we are still the church—even though we are scattered for a season—and we still have a calling on our lives.

We are going to see three things this morning: 1) the Spirit of God always works to declare Jesus is Lord, 2) the gifts of the Spirit are meant to display unity and diversity in the mission of our Lord, and 3) these gifts are given by the Spirit for the common good. 

The Spirit Declares That Jesus is Lord (vv.1–3) 

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

The first sentence in verse 1 says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts.” I think it would be better translated:  

“Now concerning life in the Spirit.” Let me tell you why I think that and why it matters. 

The word Paul uses here is the word he has used throughout the whole book of 1 Corinthians for life in the realm of the Spirit. And it’s not the word he uses in the rest of this chapter for gifts of the Spirit.

Now, here’s why that matters. Some commentators take the translation “spiritual gifts” and then look at verse 2 about being led astray to mute idols and then look at verse 3 where Paul talks about cursing Jesus, and they say that what was happening is that these spiritual gifts were actually demonic, and Paul wants them to stop cursing Jesus.

However, that would be to use the word spiritual in a way Paul never uses it throughout the rest of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul uses it five other times (2:13, 2:15, 3:1, 9:11, 10:4), and each time he shows something that the Spirit accomplishes among God’s people. In other words, he is showing what it is like to live in the power of the Spirit. 

So, with Paul talking about how Christians are to live in the power of the Spirit, what is the point of verses 1–3?

If you were to look at 1 Corinthians as a whole and especially chapters 12–14 you would find a messed-up church that was not a witness in their times. Instead of exulting in Christ as Savior and Lord, they were often fighting with each other, living in sin, and trying to decide who had the most important gifts.

Paul cuts right to the heart when he says, “Don’t you get it? The Spirit of God is always working to make you feel in your hearts and declare with your mouths that Jesus is Lord! The Spirit of God doesn’t make you lift yourselves up—he makes you bow down to Jesus! The Spirit doesn’t make you rest in your own control over a few things—he makes you rest in the perfect control of Jesus over all things. The Spirit doesn’t cause anxiousness and division—he brings about perfect peace and unity under the reign of King Jesus!”

Bethlehem, I’ve been praying this morning that the Spirit would work this humbling and calming truth deep into our hearts this morning from our scattered places in light of this virus spreading and causing so much fear. 

Jesus. Is. Lord. Jesus reigns in this moment. Jesus has not taken his eyes off the road. Jesus has not stepped away from his throne. Jesus is not wringing his hands wondering what to do. Jesus is King of an unshakable kingdom that we have been called into if we’ve trusted in him. 

Look at me. There is nothing ultimately up for grabs for those who belong to the the Chief Shepherd:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.—John 10:27–29

He is our Shepherd in uncertain times. He is leading us to green pastures and still waters to restore our fearful souls. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. We don’t need to fear any evil—including the Coronavirus. He is pursuing us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives—including these more uncertain days. We will dwell in his house forever, where all sin and sickness and suffering will be no more.

The reason Coronavirus is ultimately scary comes from the fact that all suffering and disease whispers that death is real. We try to avoid that truth in our culture. We try to numb it by controlling our circumstances, starting new diets, binging tv shows, busying ourselves on social media, and a million other ways. But, death is real. We will all die. Disease and lack of control is terrifying to a world that knows this deep down but wants to deny it.

However, as Christians, we can live in freedom from the fear of death because death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ's death and resurrection. Sin has been defeated for us. We will rise again to be with Jesus. Those in Christ will never ultimately die. We have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Our Savior is Lord and he reigns today. 

Bethlehem, the Spirit means to set your heart on the reign of Jesus today. To set your heart on his sure resurrection power that will cause you to rise again. To trust that all of the promises of God are “Yes” in Jesus—the one who reigns over every inch of the universe. 

The Spirit is always working in our hearts to help us declare and believe down to our bones that Jesus is Lord and though we have no control at all—he has perfect control and he is for us and with us. The Spirit works in the church to declare, “Jesus is Lord” in even the most trying times.

Unity and Diversity in the Mission of the Lord (vv.4–6) 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

In verse 4 he states there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. Your gifts, whatever they are, are empowered by the Spirit. Here in verse 4 he uses the word charismata that is very closely related to the word for grace, charis, in other words the One Spirit gives a diversity of gifts of grace to the church. All of this is by grace and not owing to our ability.

In verse 5 he states that there are diversities of ways people serve but there is one Lord they ultimately serve. In other words, don’t try to make one person’s ministry more “holy” or “spiritual” when it is done in obedience to the same Lord. My preaching is not more spiritual than your hospitality this morning or serving your elderly neighbors by getting their groceries. Someone counseling is not more spiritual than the media team that is working hard to get this stream to you. Our goal is to serve the Lord together. (Note of thanks to the Operations team).

In verse 6, he says there is a diversity of “workings” but it is the same God (the Father) who works them all in each one. In other words, all of our work is worked in us by God. All of our spiritual work is empowered by the Father. Every work. In each one of us. 

Notice, how this highlights the unity and diversity of God by mentioning all three persons of the Trinity. The beauty of our God, the reality that makes our God different from any other God in the universe, is that our God is three-in-one, Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons, one God, unity and diversity.

Each person in the Trinity has a role to play in the mission of the gospel. And in the same way each of you have gifts, ways you serve, and work you do as part of your campus that is meant to display the unity and diversity of our God in the mission of the gospel. 

We live in a world where division over differences for all sorts of reasons reign. But, when we display this unity amidst diversity we declare, “The Lord reigns!” Even the church is often divided. What a beautiful picture it is when our diversity does not cause division but instead we come together in unity for the mission of the gospel! Perhaps now is the moment the church comes together and says with all of our diverse gifts, “Jesus is Lord! Come to him!”

These Gifts Are Given by the Spirit for the Common Good (vv.7–11)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good … All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 

I skipped the middle verses because they are simply meant to illustrate the diversity we see. I should mention that no list of gifts in the Bible is exhaustive. It’s not meant to be complete. Paul is simply illustrating that there is intentionality in the diversity of gifts the church in Corinth is receiving. If you don’t have a gift on this list, you’re not off the hook. We still need you in the game. Notice three things with me: 

  • To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit. Every one of you has a gift from the Holy Spirit. And your campus needs it. As you serve, you are manifesting God himself! God is working through you to show the world himself! This is an amazing reality that adds wonder and purpose to all that we do.

  • Also notice that this is for the common good. This means that we need each other. If you are not actively participating at your campus, then those at your campus are missing out! We are not an independent people who do things on our own. We are an interdependent people that have been empowered and endowed with specific gifts in our specific context to love and serve one another and the world around us. You cannot be a spectator for the church to be all that God has for us to be. We cannot be places with the 80/20 rule where 20% of the people do 80% of the ministry. Each person has a gift from God to be used in service to the Lord for the good of those around them. 
  • Notice that there are no accidents here. The Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills. This unified mission to declare Jesus as Lord is intentionally diverse. 

Jesus is Lord and we bow to him and rest in that. And we have been purposefully given unique gifts by the Spirit to help others bow to him and rest in that as well.

In the midst of a fearful and shaken world right now, God has placed you in a gathering North, Downtown, or South with specific gifts and good works to do by his power that display the love of Christ. There can be no spectators in the church of Christ right now. Instead, let’s ask God to empower our gifts and our acts of service more than ever before to reach out to a frightened world and pray that God would bring about revival as the world sees an unshaken and self-giving people.

These diverse gifts given by the one Spirit to the one body of Christ are not meant to just be thought about. This is where the rubber meets the road. The gifts are given for the common good. They are meant to be exercised in the strength of the Spirit. They are meant to move us to action that displays the love of Christ. These gifts are not theoretical, they move towards the practical. It is God manifesting himself in the real world, to real people, in real time to declare that Jesus is Savior and Lord.

This is an unprecedented season of life together as a church. How can we display this unity and diversity in real time and real ways now for the mission of Christ?

Application: Get in the Game—Love God and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

If the Spirit helps us believe that Jesus is Lord over every inch of the universe, then we must believe that the situation we find ourselves in right now is no accident. Let me read the quote from C.H. Spurgeon that Pastor Jason sent in his email on Friday: 

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. 

We believe along these same lines that every virus must submit to the Lordship of Jesus. Therefore, we must believe that God has placed every one of you at your campus, with your gifts, in this moment of time to spread gospel hope and gospel rest in the Lordship of Christ during these uncertain days. 

Even though we miss gathering and know this is not quite how it’s supposed to be, the mission of the gospel still goes on. And for those who have been loved by God in Christ the call on our lives is clear!

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22:37–40 

So, Bethlehem, now is not a time to passively sit on the sidelines, but more than ever to get in the game and love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbors as yourselves.

First, make this a time where you go deeper in the Word and prayer than ever before alone and with small groups of others. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in you. Linger in prayer with others. We need to be a people saturated in the word of God and we can all agree that there’s much to pray for. Look to Jesus in his word and go to his throne of grace often so that you can have deep fellowship with your Lord and so that he can remind you of your unshakable hope. Then, when opportunities come to encourage your brothers and sisters, or the world around you, you’ll be ready. I’m praying this would be a kind of time where life is upset enough to remind us that our unchanging hope is God and that we are always 100% dependent on him. 

Second, make this a time to love your neighbor as yourself. Christians who are set free from the fear of death by Lordship of Christ and especially those of us not in a vulnerable position should take this opportunity to love our neighbors! Love those vulnerable among your congregation by checking in on them and offering to run errands for them. Love the vulnerable in your neighborhood by stopping by and asking how you can help them. Love people by taking time to listen to their fears and pointing them to hope in Jesus. Jesus shines bright in dark times. People will be looking for hope. You are empowered by the Spirit to love and speak hope.

We cannot gather right now—and I am going to miss gathering with our people. But, perhaps this is a moment where the Lord Jesus is teaching us once again to be salt and light as we are scattered throughout these Twin Cities. And perhaps this is a moment where the Lord Jesus means to shine the light of his love into the darkness of fear and weakness to a watching world. Perhaps through our increased love for God and love for neighbor God means to save some.

Bethlehem, this moment is not separate from our 20/20 vision. March is all about the job description of the church. We need everyone to get in the game and play in the strength that God supplies. Each one of you has gifts that God means to use to declare he is Lord and spread his love to those around us. The job description of the church hasn’t changed, even if the circumstances have.

Therefore, this virus is a chance for the church to declare the victory of Christ. This disease is a chance for the church to make disciples of Christ. This lockdown is a chance for the church to show the love of Christ.

God has given you gifts for the common good. The mission of the church remains the same. Let’s declare Jesus is Lord and love our neighbors as ourselves as we are scattered until that sweet moment when we can gather once again.

Sermon Discussion Questions


  1. The Spirit Declares That Jesus Is Lord (vv. 1–3)
  2. Unity and Diversity in the Mission of the Lord (vv. 4–6)
  3. These Gifts Are Given by the Spirit for the Common Good

Main Point: For a church to accomplish the call God has on it, every member must get in the game with the diverse gifts that God has given by the one Spirit. 

Discussion Questions

  • What does God mean to display by giving diverse gifts by the one Spirit to his church? 
  • Why is it so important that every member “gets in the game”? 
  • If you were going to list one aspect of the “job description of the church”  from this sermon, what would it be? 
  • What is one way you can use your gifts in this odd season and fulfill the mission of the gospel? 
  • How can you take steps in this season of potential fear and uncertainty to rest in the Lordship of Jesus? How can you help others? 
  • What are some practical steps you can take to use the gifts God has given you, in the location God has placed you, to love your neighbor as yourself? 
  • How can you make it a point to make this the season to go deeper in God’s word and prayer than ever before, by yourself and with others?  

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