January 16th, 2022 homily on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 by Pastor Galen
We Need Electricians!
When I was growing up, it seemed like every kid in my class wanted to either be a professional sports player when they grew up, or a professional singer, or movie star. Astronaut was probably a close runner-up.
Nowadays, my kids tell me that everyone in their class wants to be a social media influencer. On social media platforms like Youtube, Instagram, or TikTok, there is fame and fortune to be made.
But what strikes me is that I’ve never heard a kid say they want to be an actuary, or a computer hardware engineer, even though these are two jobs that are consistently rated as low stress jobs that pay well. Now besides the fact that most of us have no clue what an actuary does (actuaries are basically mathematicians who assess risk for insurance companies), being an actuary just doesn’t sound quite as flashy as being a YouTube influencer. And many of us, especially when we’re young, are drawn to the flashy.
But the reality is that if all of us were movie stars, or athletes, or youtube influencers, and no one in the world did the more boring-sounding jobs, our world as we know it would come to a grinding halt. Or, as someone posted on Twitter recently, “Stop trying to be content creators! We need electricians!”
Gifts of the Spirit
Now the church in Corinth was facing a similar situation. It wasn’t that everyone was trying to become a movie star or athlete or social media influencer. But they were all drawn to the roles in the church that seemed more flashy, or seemed to be more extraordinary or spiritual-sounding.
The premise behind all of this is that everyone in the church has a role to play. Church is not supposed to be a spectator sport. No one is supposed to just be watching from the sidelines – we all have a role to play.
But it’s important to understand that we all have a different mix of gifts. And that’s a good thing! As the Apostle Paul says here in this chapter, some are given the utterance of wisdom, others the utterance of knowledge. This might refer to those who are gifted at preaching, or teaching, or providing wise counsel, or speaking words of confirmation from God. Others are gifted in faith, Paul says. And this is more than just the faithfulness that each of us are called to – here “faith” refers to the ability to do extraordinary things. Related to that, Paul says that some have gifts of healing, or working miracles.
Others are gifted in prophecy – which doesn’t necessarily involve telling the future – but rather speaking on behalf of God authoritatively. Others are gifted in discernment – which refers to the ability to distinguish between true and false prophecy – definitely a gift that is very much needed in our world today! Still others have the gift of tongues, or the miraculous ability to speak in other languages, including unknown languages, and still others are given the ability to interpret those languages.
The ability to speak in tongues was sort of the “social media influencer” of Corinth. Everyone wanted that particular gift, because it was flashy, and seemed super spiritual. We can all probably imagine what it must have been like to see someone overtaken by the power of the Holy Spirit, and begin to speak in languages that no one had ever heard before. The Corinithians were drawn to that particular gift, and everyone wanted it – and no doubt some people probably even pretended to have it when they didn’t.
But Paul is saying here – and he’ll get into this more in the next section – that no one gift is more valuable or important than the others, because each of the gifts are given by the Holy Spirit. The same Lord, the same Holy Spirit gives these gifts to us, and they are all given to us for the common good, as we see in verse 7. Which may explain why at various points in history or in different parts of the world different gifts seem to be more common than at other times or places – the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts for the good of all people, not just for the person receiving the gift.
Now the gifts that Paul describes here represent a wide spectrum of gifts – everything from preaching and teaching, to discerning between true and false prophecy. And this is not even an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts! In other places in the New Testament we see other gifts such as administration, and hospitality.
Paul’s point here is that although there are a wide variety of gifts given to believers, they are all given by the same Holy Spirit. And although they may seem to have different levels of influence, they all have the same source, and they are all equally important and needed in the Church.
What’s My Gift?
Some questions naturally arise when we talk about spiritual gifts. Some of us might be thinking to ourselves, well what’s my gift? Do I already have one? If so, how do I know what it is? And if I don’t have one, how do I get one? I wondered this for many years myself.
- First of all, Paul tells us here “to each is given.”
Paul doesn’t say “to some,” or “to many.” But rather he says “to each.” And so, whether you know what your gift is or not, if you are a follower of Christ, and you have the Holy Spirit living in you, then you have in fact been given a gift by the Holy Spirit. No question about it. The Holy Spirit is generous, and gives gifts to each and every one of us – no exception. (The Holy Spirit is sort of like Oprah – “you get a gift, you get a gift, and you get a gift!”)
- So how do we know our particular spiritual gift?
Someone has said, “There are two great moments in a person’s life: the moment you were born and the moment you realize why you were born.” For some of us, there may be a specific moment when it clicks – when you all of a sudden realize what it is that God has uniquely called or equipped you to do.
For others this may happen much more gradually. Some of our gifts might take a while to mature to the point where they’re even recognizable, and may even be that others may see our gifts in us before we see them.
For others of us, we may piece it together more logically. It may be a combination of your personality, the things you enjoy, or seeing a great need in the world, and knowing that you could help meet that need. Preacher and writer Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
This sort of awareness often comes about through deep study and reflection on the needs of the world, and a mature understanding of what truly brings us joy and satisfaction. This is not the sort of understanding that comes from following what’s popular or flashy, but rather an awareness of the deepest longings of our heart. It comes from letting God break our hearts for the things that break God’s heart, and considering how God may be calling us to respond accordingly.
There are, of course, a number of spiritual gifts inventories and assessments that can be helpful, and you can find many of these online. And we typically do one of these in our confirmation and membership classes. But remember that these sorts of inventories and assessments are best done in community, with other people – and we should always seek input from trusted friends, advisors, and mentors.
- How do we Grow and Develop our Gifts?
All of our gifts can deepen and grow over the course of our lifetime. It is possible to grow in faith, and wisdom, and in the ability to discern truth from falsehood, for example. But in order to grow in them, we must practice them regularly.
Practicing can mean “carrying out or performing a particular activity habitually or regularly.” But it can also mean “performing an activity or a skill repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.” And I’m using this word “practices” in both senses of the word.
One way we can grow and develop our gifts is to practice using them with people with whom we are close – trusted friends or spiritual colleagues – people who can give us honest feedback and critique.
This past summer as part of my seminary program I was asked to invite a committee of people to give me feedback on a weekly basis on my sermons on Sunday mornings. Several people here in the congregation were given a survey to fill out each week that involved feedback on such things as my delivery, how Biblically grounded the sermon was, whether the sermon clearly communicated the Good news of the Gospel, whether it displayed pastoral sensitivity, etc. Each week the survey results were collected anonymously and my mentor and I reviewed and discussed them together. This was an incredibly humbling experience, but one that helped me grow in my effectiveness as a preacher and communicator.
Asking for and receiving this type of feedback may feel strange, and yet it is essential if we want to grow and develop in our effectiveness.
Imagine if you believed you had the gift of healing, for example, and you consistently prayed for people to be healed, but they never told you whether or not they were healed! You may grow discouraged and stop praying, believing that your prayers were never answered. Or what if you thought you had the gift of wisdom, but the wise counsel you gave to others was consistently flawed or misguided. Wouldn’t it be better to hear that from a trusted friend or colleague? Wouldn’t it be better to hear that from someone close to you before you continue dispensing advice that leads others down a wrong path? As humbling as it would be to receive that sort of feedback, it’s important for us to know how the use of our gifts are impacting others so that we can grow in our gifts and use them effectively for the glory of God, and for the common good.
We can help one another by giving honest feedback when asked, and by sharing the ways in which the prayers of the community have been answered, and by encouraging one another and sharing positive examples of how someone else’s gift blessed or encouraged us. The point of all of us is that God would be glorified, that the Church would be built up, that those who feel distant from God may experience God’s love and grace in their lives, and that all of us would grow in maturity and in faith in God.
My challenge and encouragement to us, then, this morning is to recognize that each and every one of us has been given gifts of the Spirit. And these gifts, while different from one another, are all for the building up of the Church, and the blessing of the world.
And so may we celebrate the diverse gifts that have been given to us. And may each of us strive to find that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. May we practice the gifts God has given to us – for the good of others, and so that we can grow more effective in the use of our gifts. And may we share and receive feedback from one another in love as we seek to use our gifts for the betterment of the church and for the common good.