Today, we celebrate Pentecost. It is also the birthday of the church, and like all other birthdays, a gift was given. That gift was the Holy Spirit, and we still receive the Holy Spirit today. The Holy Spirit also came bearing gifts, and it brings the same gifts today.
In 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, Paul lists four broad categories of spiritual gifts, each with a specific purpose. The special gifts are to equip God’s people. The speaking gifts are to explain God’s truth. The serving gifts are to enable God’s work. The sign gifts are to establish God’s authority.
The gifts from God fall into three categories: gifts received in relation to the Spirit, acts of service and works made possible by God’s power. The same God is the giver of these gifts. These gifts are for the common good of the church, not for the benefit of the recipients.
God gives different gifts to different people. To some, he gives the faith of miracles. This faith is greater than regular faith. To others, He gives the gift of healing. To others, He gives the ability to speak in languages that they did not know before. The Corinthians may have been afraid that those speaking in tongues were blaspheming the Lord. Paul reassured them that a person who was truly regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit was incapable of cursing God.
Although we don’t have the gift of healing today, God still hears and answers our prayers, especially our prayers for the sick. One gift we receive is insights into the needs of people to bring them to Christ. That gift raises the spiritual bar for Christians who want to impact the world for Christ today.
We have the chance to be part of one of the greatest healings of all time. That healing is the dead coming to life. When we tell others the Gospel and they respond, they go from death to life, from condemnation to forgiveness, from being a child of the devil to a child of God.
In the 1800s, a young boy was fascinated by the beauty of snowflakes. He looked at them with an old microscope and made sketches of their designs, but they melted too quickly to capture their detail. In 1885, he attached a bellows camera to the microscope and after several tries he took his first picture of a snowflake.
No two snowflakes are alike, but all come from the same source. The same is true for all Christians. All of us come from the same God, but we are all different. God has chosen to bring a variety of people together into a unified whole, and He has given us different gifts, and He has given them to us in different ways.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation upon which all other doctrines are built. Paul uses the beautiful mystery of the Trinity to demonstrate to the Corinthians that just as there is diversity within the Godhead (Father/Son/Spirit) yet only one God, there is also diversity in spiritual gifts but only one church. The diversity of gifts should serve to promote unity within the church, not division and competition.
Paul likens these gifts and the church to the human body. The body is made up of various parts and is still one body. The church is one body made up of many members, each with their own gifts and functions. The work of the church is to encourage its members to discover and use these gifts. The Spirit operates in our lives in such a way that we discover understandings and abilities that we did not know we had.
One reason why we sometimes don’t recognize our gifts is because of sin. Our self-centered human nature and our preoccupation with lesser things causes us to focus on worldly things. When the Spirit enters our lives, it begins to remove the clutter, just like we remove clutter when we move.
In ancient times, before all of Scripture was written, God would give a sign gift such as miracles, healings tongues or interpretation of tongues to validate the word of His spokesmen. Once the Word of God was completed, there was no further need for a revelation because God had said all that He intended to say. So today, if someone says, “I have a word from God,” ignore it. The canon of Scripture is closed.
The last chapter of the Book of Revelation pronounces a curse on anyone who would add to or subtract from Scripture. People do receive further understanding about the word God has already given, but no one receives any additional, prophetic revelation. Prophecy is now limited to proclaiming what has already been revealed in the Scriptures. That does not mean that Christians should ignore people such as ministers who deliver a message from God. They are to use the gift of discernment to determine the truthfulness of the message.
The validity of any speaking exercise is determined by the truthfulness of it. If the speaker affirms the lordship of Jesus, the message is truth from the Holy Spirit. What someone says and believers about Jesus is the test of whether he or she speaks from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always leads people to Christ.
All our gifts come from God. Pride creeps in when we begin to think that we had these gifts and the power they bring to begin with. We did not earn our gifts, and God does not show favoritism. Each spiritual gift is just that-a gift. It was given by God because He wants us to share the Gospel with a hurting world.
Throughout Scripture, God chose the most unlikely and unqualified people to do His work in our world. In most cases these people insisted that they were not worthy. They forgot one thing that we sometimes forget today. What is impossible with people is possible with God. All we have to do is believe that God has called us to go into the world in His name, and not listen to the limitations we or others have imposed.
Some people are jealous of the gifts others have received. They think that their own gifts are small or insignificant compared to others. Sometimes this leads to a serious, permanent rift in a relationship, and sometimes this is God’s will. There are times God chooses to spread the Good News rapidly in different direction and different ways by having two capable servants have a disagreement. As they separate and minister in different locations and in different ways, He accomplishes a greater objective than if they agreed.
On this the birthday of the church, our attitude should be one of thankfulness and gratefulness. It is a duty that God wants us to accomplish cheerfully by using the gifts He has given us. If we do, we will be doing His work in our world-and that is a gift that we can give to Him and to others.
Craig Condon, Lay Minister, Anglican Parish of South Queens, Liverpool, NS Canada. He regularly blogs on this and other sermons at http://www.sermonsfrommyheart.wordpress.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org