These days, when people tell me they are spiritual, I usually ask, “do you mean the Holy Spirit?” Just trying to be clear. While the Bible allows that all men may have an awareness and appreciation for God and the supernatural realm, it reserves the words spirit or spiritual for the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Activity and Mind of God who comes to us by virtue of the work of Christ! He is the only means by which a person can know and serve the Risen Lord. “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” (John 14:18) is a prediction of His presence in us. As I prayed this morning, I despaired (again) of ever serving Christ in my own strength or goodness. My flesh is still so fleshly. My hope, today and everyday, is that I will “walk by the Spirit”. “No one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles. . .” (1 Corinthians 12:28) “But eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31) It is confusing to consider how we are to be individually content with the gifts the Spirit gives us (ears are to be glad to be ears–see vs 16) and at the same time to corporately desire the “greater gifts”. Desire is a word that most often means jealousy–a couple jealously excludes others from their marriage, a church jealously guards some gifts from exerting too much influence over the fellowship. Structure the church, says Paul, with the emphasis on the gifts of evangelism, discipleship and teaching. Put the “word gifts” first. (not in value but in emphasis) This is a choice of God and when we cooperate with Him, all gifts operate with greater efficiency and joy. No favoritism here, but it is wisdom from God to keep the “word first”.
When God is at work in the church, it often seems disorganized, inefficient by human standards. There will be no uniformity. We will not all be in the same room singing the same song–at least not always. The tubas will not have the same notes to play as the flutes. “There are different works of service, but the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:6) Only those who can step back from the sound can hear the melody and harmony the composer intended. Like the conductor of a symphony, God prefers complex sound and diverse contribution. Those of us who love Him must love this choice. We must learn to trust His direction of every individual part and His ability to bring it all together into one glorious performance. I am relieved that I do not have His job! Just grateful to be included in the orchestra. . . I am praying for you this week, my friend. Pastor Don
“There are different gifts, but the same Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4) You have to wonder. Why does the Creator make us all so different? Wouldn’t unity (His plan and prayer) be easier to acheive and maintain without so much built-in diversity? We are different in so many ways–gender, ethnicity, opinions, spiritual gifting, even language! “Those French,” quipped Steve Martin, “they have a different word for everything.” What possible purpose could God have to create such different people and then put us together in a church? Perhaps it is something we should expect from an infinitely creative mind. The God who imagined spiders and sperm whales never needs to repeat Himself. Perhaps, like the Tower of Babel story, our diversity is part judgement, part prevention from an easy and ungodly unity. Maybe it is God’s gentle/stubborn way to remind us that unity and rest are unattainable until we return to Him. Maybe it is His “obstacle course” to teach us to love.
“No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3) It is more than words. Saying that Jesus is Lord (and meaning it) is a supernatural act made possible by the Holy Spirit. Beginning in 1 Corinthins 12, Paul discusses spiritual gifts with the Corinthians. He admits (vs 2) the difficulty we have knowing what an invisible God is saying. The Corinthians have a history of confusion at this point. In the past, they have been “led astray” by idols that were “mute”. ie. they couldn’t speak but the Corinthians thought they were! (vs 2) So Paul supplies how we can always recognize the Spirit–by His affect on us. Any invisible force that makes Jesus real and allows Him to reign over us is the Holy Spirit. Count on it! Have you called Jesus Lord with your words? Would you like to declare Him Lord with your actions and life? The Holy Spirit is the only way.
I have a question for you. Please ask yourself as you leave church in a few hours.
“Did I love anyone?” It is a higher question than the one we often ask, “Did I learn anything?” (Itself, higher than the most common question of all, “Did I enjoy myself?”) Christians all over the world tend to substitute knowledge for love. We have Bible studies. When do we study love? “Knowledge puffs up, love builds up” says Paul in intentional contrast of these two values. (1 Corinthians 8: 1) Church success is never self-authenticating. Sometimes the most successful churches (and the most prominent Christians) never practise the most valuable virtue of all. So, did you? Today, did you love the teenagers (or internationals or visitors from the street) or did you avoid contact? Did you reach out to those who worship in a different style or did you wish they would “go somewhere else”? It is an important question. Important to the Lord. I will see you in a few. — Pastor Don
There is a movement these days toward Simple Church. There is even a book. While I admit the need, I wonder if it is possible. I am all for adjusting schedule or order of worship. What I don’t expect is that relationships will ever be simple. There are whiners and grumps and “high maintenance saints” in every church. There are always people I don’t naturally like whom I am called to love. My sons were, in a funny way, the same sort of trouble. As babies they kept me up at night. As teenagers they tested my patience and wisdom. As college students, they drained my bank account. But I wouldn’t trade the privilege of being a Dad for anything in the world! Sort of like church. When Paul (1 Corinthians 8) tells us to make decisions based on what is good for others it complicates life. In a good way. Church only works when we learn to love.
“But if anyone should say, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience sake” (the other man’s)– 1 Corinthians 10:28. Paul has clearly declared the freedom that comes from knowledge. (cf chapter 8) Now he declares the limitations that come from love. Love is always measured by loss. A mother loses sleep because her child is sick. A believer loses the freedom to act or think certain things because others are watching and may be harmed by the example. Love motivates both. The clearest picture of love is the life/death of Christ. “He emptied himself. . .and became obedient to death, even death on the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) If He was willing to serve us in this way, it is impossible for us to call ourselves His followers and “refuse to lose” in service to others. Friend, what are you prepared to lose for the sake of love?
Paul is very wise in dealing with the Corinthians. He knows that people are not the same–not by creation or experience. He knows that “one size fits all” is a lie. So, he teaches them the principle of love ( vs 1) and then simply declares his own decision. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again!” (1 Corinthians 8:13) He is speaking for himself, not telling them what to do. One person can be a great influence for good. Trying to convince or control others is sometimes less productive than just deciding for yourself and having the courage to speak up. “As for me and my house. . .” said Joshua. I wonder what our church would be like if we had more of Paul’s wisdom– prayerful enough to decide. . . humble enough to decide for ourselves. . . connected enough( and courageous enough) to declare it. We have a congregational meeting on Sunday night. Please pray for me to have Paul’s wisdom. Don
In 1 Corinthians 8:1 the Bible marks a contrast between knowledge and love. Knowledge puffs up. It makes a person seem bigger than they really are, gives an apperance of spiritual life without the reality. “Where’s the BEEF?” said the Wendy’s commercial in the 70’s. Love, on the other hand, builds up. It edifys. (notice the word “edifice”, the face of a building) All of us should be concerned with the present condition of our church (and other churches). Learning scripture is NOT enough. Knowing truth is NOT enough. “If I have not love, I am NOTHING” (1 Corinthians 13) The best thing that knowledge can do for me is to teach me how little I actually know (vs 2) and to send me back to the first principle of the Christian life. “The man who LOVES God is known by GOD” (vs 3) Love is the highest connection between God and man. It is what we really need to learn.