August 4, 2019
Dave Zuleger (South Campus) | 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Sermon audio & video to come.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.—1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3
The Plan: Walk in God’s Gifts as a Body
During campus-specific sermons we’ve been walking through a series called “The Spirit that Glorifies Jesus.” We’ve seen that we are baptized in and have the whole Holy Spirit as the gift of God that dwells inside the blood-bought family of God to direct our hearts back home to Jesus in the midst of life and then empowers our fellowship, obedience, and worship of Jesus.
Today we are going to spend time in 1 Corinthians 12–14 and look for themes of the gifts of the Spirit that bring glory to Jesus. First, I want us to see that God has sovereignly composed this blood-bought, Spirit-baptized family so that every person belongs and every gift is needed.
I’d like you to think of this as a big, 600-piece puzzle at the South Campus. Have you ever done one of those puzzles with all the pieces? If we’re missing a piece, the puzzle doesn’t make sense. It is not satisfying to have 599 of the pieces with a blank space. When the puzzle of the church comes together, it points to the glory of a God, who pours out the Holy Spirit to create one people with one purpose to be fulfilled in a diversity of gifts.
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. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?—1 Corinthians 12:4–7, 27–30
Every gift—from prophecy to administration, from words of knowledge to hospitality—is a part of the supernatural puzzle. These gifts are done in the power of the Spirit, and they collectively come together to more completely glorify Christ and help others than any of the pieces could alone. I could name them here at the South Campus, and you’ll see many of the gifts at the ministry fair after service today—just a small slice of all the gifts and ways people are ministering.
There should be an anticipation of what God is doing in your day-to-day. There should be anticipation and expectation when we gather on Sundays and Wednesdays and at small groups and Bibles studies. He’s meeting his people by his Spirit. If you’re making the coffee here, you should pray that the Spirit helps your gift of hospitality to shine the beauty of Christ. If you’re in a conversation and you feel a like the Spirit gives you something to say or pray—then pray that it is a word of wisdom to shine the beauty of Christ.
He’s putting the pieces of the puzzle together by his providence in the power of his Spirit. That’s every moment of every day for the blood-bought, Spirit-baptized family of God. Do you walk through life prayerfully with your eyes open for what he is doing, knowing that his plan is for the church to walk in the gifts of the Spirit for the glory of Jesus?
The Desire of God’s Gifts
I want to zero in for a few moments on the fact that at Bethlehem Baptist Church, we do believe and have believed for decades that all of these gifts, including the more phenomenal-seeming gifts of healing, tongues, prophecy, and others continue today. There are two main positions on this. One is cessationism, which interprets the Bible to say these types of phenomenal gifts have ceased and were mainly for the time of the apostles or until the Bible was finished. The other view is continuationism, which interprets the Bible to say these gifts are still active for the church today. That’s where Bethlehem stands right now—we are continuationists. We desire to see God pour out these phenomenal gifts, we pray for them, and we trust him to give us exactly what we need, when we need them.
I’m planning on sending a link to some basic definitions of these gifts in my next pastoral letter, but let me read you what the Elder Affirmation of Faith (8.2) says about this position:
[The Holy Spirit manifests] Himself in spiritual gifts (being sovereignly free to dispense, as he wills, all the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8–10) for the upbuilding of the body of Christ and the confirmation of His Word.
So, our desire of these phenomenal gifts really comes for two reasons. 1) We believe these gifts are still for today because of how we read the Bible and 2) Because of how we read the Bible, we believe it is a matter of obedience to desire these things. Let’s take those one at a time.
1. Gifts Still for Today
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.—1 Corinthians 13:8–12
There is a day coming when we will not need these gifts anymore. They will pass away. We won’t need these gifts of the Spirit to gain partial knowledge, because we will have complete, perfect knowledge. When will then happen? When we are face to face with Jesus. Every other time Paul uses this phrase in his letters he is talking about being in the physical presence of someone else. I think that’s exactly what he means here. These phenomenal gifts are necessary to know Jesus and love Jesus more in this present age. It is a gift to know and love Jesus more now, even if it is still only in part, because of the brokenness and blindness of sin and suffering. But, there’s a day coming when we will be in the physical presence of Jesus. No more sin or suffering to cloud our sight. We will know him fully even as we’ve already been fully known.
We can’t read this without taking a moment to take a deep breath and revel in the reality that we will be with our Savior, face-to-face, in the perfections of his glory one day very soon. Dwelling in unimaginable glory that dwarfs the awe of the Grand Canyon or the ocean, the beauty of sunsets, the sweetness of amazing music, or even the thrill a game-winning shot during March Madness.
But, this coming Day should not diminish the goodness of these gifts for today. Until that day we see Jesus, we want to stand in awe, see the beauty, taste the sweetness, and feel the thrill of our Savior as much as possible. And God gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to go deeper in him until that day we’re with him. We believe he’s using them today for that reason.
2. Obey the Command to Earnestly Desire the Higher Gifts
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.—1 Corinthians 12:31
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.—1 Corinthians 14:1
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.—1 Corinthians 14:39
So, Paul would have us desire these things as a blood-bought family. At a minimum, that means walking through life prayerfully asking him to grant us these gifts. We should pray for God to grant words of wisdom to us, words of knowledge to us, words of prophecy to us, and gifts of healings to us as a blood-bought family. Now, as I say that, some of you are getting nervous. What in the world are those things?
We get caught up on definitions. I don’t think Paul means to give tight definitions (even though I already told you I’d send you some soon). Instead, he is describing realities in which the Lord miraculously intervenes with wisdom, knowledge, healing, and revelations of the Spirit dwelling inside of us that encourage and convict. And he calls us to pursue that in prayer and test it for faithfulness according to the word.
It’s pretty amazing that in the midst of the dysfunction and division regarding these gifts in the church, Paul does not tell the Corinthians to stop or spend lots of time on intricate definitions.
As you read 1 Corinthians, you see that Paul is not writing a letter of definitions but a letter of corrections. He is saying, “These things are happening, and you are doing them from some wrong motivations and practicing them carelessly. So, I’m going to affirm the miraculous way the Spirit is breaking in to give you knowledge, wisdom, and healing, but I’m going to correct your selfish motivations that lead to sloppy practices. There’s nothing wrong with God’s gifts of the Spirit, but there’s stuff wrong with your use of them.”
So, we can read this and search for the details of definitions, but that’s hard because that is not what Paul is doing. Instead, he’d want us to pray for supernatural words of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, tongues, and healings as we walk through life and then simply test our own heart motivation and test these gifts according to the word of God. The Spirit will never pour out gifts that do not come in line with the word of God.
We see this in Acts, that as the disciples pray and fast and worship, the Spirit comes and speaks. They listen and obey. And now, in this era of the completed, sufficient, and authoritative word of God, we do that same thing, testing everything by the word of God.
So, as a church there is a desire of spiritual gifts because we believe they for today and we want to obey the command to desire them.
We see God’s plan of putting this puzzle together with every piece necessary and we see that we are called to desire these gifts. So, What should the posture of our hearts be in them?
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.—1 Corinthians 13:1–7
Paul is now giving them direction for how to use their gifts and a litmus test for the motivation of their hearts. Good gifts can do big harm if not done for the sake of self-giving love. Miraculous feats are useless apart from self-giving love. We should be more afraid of operating out of a selfish motivation than we are of not having a perfect definition of the gifts.
If you were to read 1 Corinthians 12:14–20, you’d see some people were consumed with self-pity because they didn’t have certain gifts. “I’m only a toe, not a hand, so I’m not a part of the body.” And then in verses 12:21–26, we would see that some were consumed with self-promotion, “I’m the brain of this body—I don’t need the heart” OR “I’m the heart of this body, I don’t need the brain.” What is Paul’s answer to both? Don’t be full of self-focused pride or pity but instead be filled with self-giving love that recognizes in humility that it is God who has put all the puzzle pieces in place. It is simply our job to walk in the gifts God has given to us and make sure as we do that we are doing it with patience and kindness, doing it free from boasting or envy, free from arrogance or irritation—eager to suffer long with people, not insist on our own way, and keep trusting and hoping in God.
As you see people serve and thrive in ministry with gifts different than yours, what is your response? Are you full of joy? Or are you happier when God does something big through you? Are you operating out of love for God and others with your gifts—or operating out of a love for the spotlight and recognition? Are you full of self-promotion as if your ministry was the most important? Or are you full of self-pity that your ministry is too small to matter? Or are you prayerfully seeking to use your gifts for the glory of Christ and happy that God has given us the other puzzle pieces to complete the mission?
People operating in the gifts of the Spirit should do so while displaying the fruit of the Spirit – which is love. A self-giving love will want to use gifts in ways that serve others and bring glory to Christ.
The Purpose: Witness in the Gifts to the Love and Lordship of Christ
So, the puzzle comes together, as we pray and seek these even more phenomenal gifts of the Spirit. And as we seek to do this in the way of love, what is God’s purpose in all of it?
I think it is to be a witness to the love and lordship of Christ. In other words, if these gifts of the Spirit are being carried out in the way of love, the result will be people who more deeply experience the personal love of Christ and people that more fully submit to personal Lordship of Christ in their life.
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.—1 Corinthians 12:1–3
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.—1 Corinthians 14:24–25
What does the Spirit do as he works? People will not be led astray to other things, but will proclaim, “Jesus is Lord! Jesus reigns. He’s alive. He’s real. I want to worship him. I want to follow him. I want to obey him. He has purchased me, and now my life belongs to him. I find my truest self and true freedom as I bow the knee to King Jesus every moment of my life.”
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.—1 Corinthians 14:3–4
When God speaks to his people or heals his people through the gifts of the Spirit being practiced in the blood-bought family of God, he means to show up personally and build them up, encourage them, and console them—to show us his personal presence and his power. When the Holy Spirit comes and grants words of wisdom in conversation or heals someone or ministers to someone in their personal prayer time in tongues, he means to remind us that he is real and he sees us and he loves us. He may do that by healing someone. Or, he may do that by giving someone just the word they need in the deepest moment of suffering. But, he will most often do this through the prayers and ministry of the people of God as he pours out the gifts of the Spirit among them.
And so we come back to our theme for this series. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. It is no different with his gifts. From the most seemingly practical, like hospitality and administration, to the most seemingly phenomenal, like healing and tongues, they all exist to help the people of God say, “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is real. Jesus is alive. And Jesus loves me. I want to live my life to be in sweet fellowship with him.”
I want to you to hear a testimony about one way that God has done this among us in recent months to encourage you to join us in pleading with God for more of his Spirit and more of his gifts so that Jesus receives all the more glory.
(Testimony of Bill Snoke—Video)
And so I have this picture of us as a blood-bought family. I have a picture of us in the Word to know God and on our knees to commune with God. A picture of us as a family pleading with God to pour out his gifts and use us for his glory. And then, us a family leaning in to use those gifts to minister to one another and spreading out to see others come into the family—always checking ourselves that we would display the fruit of the Spirit of love as we exercise the gifts of the Spirit. And, perhaps God would be pleased to pour out more of his gifts as we pray more. We don’t want to not have because we haven’t asked (James 4:2). And as we do, Jesus will receive the glory as the Lord of our lives and the lover of our souls. He will build and expand his kingdom through us to the glory of his name.