Saturday, January 16, 2010

C, Epiphany 2 - 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 "The Greatest Spiritual Gift"

They worshipped in troubled times. The congregation was the battleground for those who sought to bring glory to themselves and enforce their rights.

Some in this congregation viewed Christian fellowship as nothing more than a party. “Eat, drink and be merry, massage the ego! It doesn’t matter what we do, now that we’re Christians! If it feels good do it!” These were their chaotic choruses.

Then there were others in the congregation who fought against this “it’s all good” attitude. They were staunch and stoic in nature and detested the “pleasure-seeking” Christians as totally irresponsible. But they too were consumed with themselves and sought to impose their rights, through their works and their seemingly higher moral standing. “Life is tough — get over it! The harder one works, the more successful one becomes” was there war cry! They thought they were better than everyone else because of the many things they could do! And so staunchly they expected others to submit to their cold, passionless, habitual ways!

Now these two groups of people were very gifted. The first were generous and hospitable, they were passionate evangelists, and they wanted others to worship with them. The second were diligent workers, gifted in the trades and knowledge; they had sound commonsense and methodically got things done.

However, the pleasure-seeking group wanted to bring outsiders in at any cost. They wanted to relax and trivialise everything that showed the newcomers who they were in relation to God, so they wouldn’t feel so guilty. If they could hide the truth with pleasure they believed they could convince themselves and others they were super-humans and super-Christians.

Alternatively, the stoic group didn’t want to bring in anyone — not unless they fit their social and moral criteria. Only those who had control of their destiny and passions were acceptable — a higher class of people! Perhaps more godlike! They thought, through what they did, they were super-humans and super-Christians.

The whole congregation saw themselves as mature, yet they were infants! From their battle for rights spewed all the immaturities of infancy. They demanded their own way, and on getting it, blamed everyone else for it not working. In fact, so juvenile was this congregation, they really didn’t know what they wanted, let alone needed.

This church was walking in troubled times. Their actions were so close to cursing Christ, and the Holy Spirit was sought only to justify their lording of self-seeking passions or self-interested morals. This congregation left to its own devices was on a self-centred spiral into self destruction.

This was the church in Corinth. Sin was rife in this congregation. There was no accountability before God, as people sought to use God and his word as a tool to justify their ways! Christian servanthood had long gone out the window and in its place a putrid service to one’s emotions, understanding, and morals was observed. So Saint Paul says to these people…

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

One could imagine their pride and arrogance in the spirituality they thought they possessed. But when accountability and liability before God was put on the table, along with servanthood, their consciences were stirred as they sought every means possible to sidestep confronting their own sin, receiving forgiveness, and forgiving one another.

So in this context Paul addresses the church in Corinth regarding spiritual gifts, or spiritual things. From 1 Corinthians 12 we hear…

1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)

Paul calls this congregation to repentance. Their squabble for power has returned them to idolatry similar to that of their pagan neighbours who worshipped mute idols. In fact, they themselves had quickly become mute idols too, and the further they drifted away from God, the more sluggish they became in their self-centred sin, till eventually death muted their pleasures and their works — their self-glorification. Unrepentant and unforgiven the wages of their sin would have been eternal death.

Earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul informs the Corinth congregation that… I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

So Paul called the congregation back to God the Son. Jesus Christ is the greatest spiritual gift and he had already been given to them. In fact, all spiritual gifts come about because of Christ to bring glory to him alone. To that end, the Holy Spirit’s job is to bring glory to the Father, and the Son, as he reveals Jesus Christ, exposes our sin, calls us to a holy life of repentance in Christ, so we can be forgiven by God and others, and so we can forgive one another. Through this, glory goes to him who was crucified and raised for you and me!

Therefore, no one is a better or worse Christian — all are sinners — and all have been given Christ. In addition to this, all have been given the Holy Spirit through the word of God and have the God-given right to confess, “Jesus as Lord”. All are called to stop cursing Christ through their opposition to each other. All are continually called to put off the “sinful-self” and turn to Christ and the means through which he gives the grace-filled gift of himself, and the faith-working gift of the Holy Spirit.

Paul then goes through some of the spiritual things, or gifts, which were caught in controversy at Corinth. These things were not all their gifts, by any means, and nor should these things be seen as a prerequisite for being a Christian or as more important gifts. These God-given gifts were taken out of context and the Corinthians were using them as weapons against each other and as a means of promoting their self-righteousness over against letting their gifts bring glory to Christ.

The Early Church’s gifts of healing, tongues, and prophecy — although legitimately given by God — are a rarity today. God might choose to use them from time to time, but as a whole he doesn’t these days, because they no longer serve the purpose of bringing glory to God. In fact many who claim to have the gifts of healing, tongues, and prophecy today, do so contrary to Christ and his word, claiming some super-Christian, super-apostolic status, and therefore only seek glory for themselves.

With regards to extraordinary events, we only have to recall how many times water has been turned into wine in recent years, to realise that these things formerly happened to serve one purpose, and that was to reveal Jesus Christ as God the Son and bring due glory to him alone. And the same can be said for all Jesus’ miracles and healings, together with all the extraordinary events of the Spirit in the Early Church — they happened to some to point all people to Christ.

The Early Church and the congregation in Corinth were no different to the church and congregations that you and I are called into today. So in today’s church when we arrogantly seek to separate ourselves and think we’re above the troubles and sins of a bygone Christian church, we’re right there with the church in Corinth — we’re no better than any sinner since.

When we’re led to believe we can put the word of God aside, do you think we would still be able to confess “Jesus as Lord”? Hypothetically if we could, by what spirit might we confess, and who might be this Jesus we lord? Would it really be Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to whom “all” glory and honour is due?

Finally, to understand who we are, as a church, and, as people who make up the church, we do best to see ourselves as leaves on a tree. Like a leaf, each of us is unique; there is not one leaf exactly like another! But stand back and all can see the leaves make up the tree and receive energy from it too. Likewise, we’re connected to Christ, the root and branches, and receive from him the Holy Spirit, our sap, our energy, our faith. Stand back and this tree is the Christ-centred church. But if we separate ourselves from the root, the source of life, we die and bring no glory to ourselves or the tree. We become as useless as deaf and dumb idols!

However, the leaf that remains on the tree is used by the root, the branches, and the sap for the growth of the whole tree, and as the tree sways back and forth in the gentle breeze, it moves as one and brings peace to all who rest in its shade. Amen