Caught and Gifted by the Spirit

Sermon Series: Caught By the Spirit

Caught and Gifted by the Spirit

May 03, 2012 - May 06, 2012

Exodus 31:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

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Harry Heintz

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Bible trivia time.  Who is the first person in the Bible referred to as being filled with the Spirit of God?  The answer is . . . Bezalel.  When is the last time you met someone named Bezalel?  He and his working partner, Oholiab, oversaw a major building project involving fine arts.  If any women hearing this are pregnant and end up having a boy, you might consider naming him Bezalel.  If you were to have twin boys, consider naming them Bezalel and Oholiab.  As the rest of the Bible unfolds many others are recorded as being filled with the Holy Spirit, but it began with Bezalel.  The Spirit has been filling people ever since.


In this series we are considering aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work in the body of Christ—in us.  As we are doing so we are gaining insights into God the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is God, not 1/3 God or the junior partner of the team.  As the early Church developed the understanding of God as trinity, ever dwelling as Father, Son, and Spirit, the Spirit was never understood as impersonal.  The Holy Spirit is not an it.  The Holy Spirit is personal.  The Greek text of the New Testament usually uses the male pronoun, “he,” when speaking of the Spirit, which is what I normally do.  But some have advocated for the Spirit to be referred to with the feminine pronoun, “she,” at least some of the time.  That is better than using it.  God is not male or female.  God is the creator of all and has created us male and female.  In our maleness and femaleness we reflect something of the mystery of God.  If you refer to the Holy Spirit as he or she I will be fine.  If you refer to the Holy Spirit as it, I may just correct you and remind you that the Spirit of God is personal, never impersonal.


There are two dangers in considering about gifts of the Spirit.  One is that we ignore them.  Some streams of the Church have claimed that these spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 were just for the first generation of Christians.  Some want to chop the list down to what they think manageable.  Some suggest that the more unusual or extraordinary gifts (like miraculous powers and speaking in other languages) are too mysterious—too spooky!—and are not in use today.  The New Testament and church history do not support those views. These are gifts of the Spirit of God are given to the people of God for the building up of the Church of God.  The second danger is that the gifts are given an elevated status; that they become spiritual merit badges, indicating advanced spirituality.  In this view the more of these gifts one has the more spiritual one is.  And the unusual and extraordinary gifts (like miraculous powers and speaking in other languages) become the goal, the ultimate sign of spiritual superiority.  Many of you know that I was raised in Pentecostal Christianity, so I am well acquainted with these views.  I am for the most part grateful for my Pentecostal heritage, for in it I came to faith in Jesus and was influenced by many great people.  But I was uncomfortable then and still am now with a shallow view of spirituality that places way too much emphasis on showy gifts. 


That was part of the problem in Corinth that Paul was trying to correct in this teaching.  The young church in Corinth had been under the sway of some bad teaching—there was some spiritual fervor not based in God’s truth.  That didn’t disqualify them from being a church; it meant that they needed correction.  Rightly understood correction is a high form of love.  Loving parents correct and discipline their children, precisely because they want the best for their children.  Good coaches, teachers, and mentors correct their students, precisely because they want the best for their students.  Paul corrects them, beginning, “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.”  (1 Cor. 12:1.)  That last word could be translated “ignorant” or “agnostic” (meaning unknowing).  Paul wants them to know the true ministry of the Spirit.


Paul places his teaching about spiritual gifts in a neat sandwich.  First he establishes that the Holy Spirit leads us to confess that Jesus is Lord.  That is the earliest confessional statement of the Church:  “Jesus is Lord.”  That is the foundational work of the Spirit—to point us to Jesus so that we may confess him as Lord over all, over all creation and over our lives.  Several weeks ago we recognized a new confirmation class.  Tuesday night our elders will receive some adults into our church membership.  The first question is always the same:  Do you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior and unite with his body the Church?  That is foundational—and that comes only by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.


At the end of the teaching about spiritual gifts comes the great chapter on love, which begins this way:  Now eagerly desire the greater giftsAnd yet I will show you the most excellent way.”  (! Cor. 12:31.) Paul ends the teaching about love in this way:  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”  (1 Cor. 13:13-14:1.)  Sandwiched between confessing Jesus as Lord and his love in the place of supremacy we find the teaching about the gifts of the Spirit.  The point is this:  spiritual gifting is important, but is best understood in a greater context, with Jesus as Lord and love as the cardinal virtue, the one rising above all others.


Now we look further at the gifts listed.  But first, Paul sets a context for the list of gifts.  Paul uses three categories: gifts, ministries (ways of serving), and workings, each with a distinctive word.  But all proceed from the one Spirit:  “. . . in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”  (1 Cor. 12:6b.)  Paul repeats that truth in a slightly different way after listing nine such gifts:  “These are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”  (1 Cor. 12:11.)  Why this repetition?  Does Paul think that they aren’t getting it?  Probably so.  It is often that way with people.  When we want to believe something, even though it is off base, whether slightly or greatly, we need repetition of the truth.  So Paul repeats the truth.


You’re wondering if I am ever going to mention the nine gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12.  I am, but not for long.  The list is not exhaustive, but suggestive.  The list, I am convinced, was tailored for the Corinthians.  They were dabbling in these and asking about them.  The gifts list in Romans 12 is very different, because the Church in Rome was different.  This list leans toward the more extraordinary gifts.  Some have called them power gifts: healings, miracles, and tongues jump out.  I believe that the Spirit gives those gifts, but I find them no more powerful than leadership, giving, administration, and serving, which are mentioned at other places in the New Testament.  The power is not in the gift, but in the Spirit in God who gives them.


The amazing diversity of the gifts of the Spirit, the incredible variety, is for the health of the Church.  As God lives in the diversity of triune community—Father, Son, and Spirit—so we live in a community of diversity.  Each of us is as unique as a fingerprint.  And so are our giftings unique.  One ancient saint said that there are no dittoes among souls.


Back to Bezalel and Oholiab, those gifted workers in the arts.  The Spirit of God gifted them for construction, arts, crafts, and technology.  And they did their work with excellence for God.  Those were power gifts (before power tools!), just as much as gifts of healing, miracles, and tongues.  They used the gifts God entrusted to them for God’s glory—and the whole community saw the beauty of their offerings and were blessed.  The Church needs all these gifts in use as the Spirit graciously shares them with us.


From our look at Exodus and 1 Corinthians, I see these areas of common understanding:

1.  The Holy Spirit is sovereign.  He is God at work.  She graciously gifts people.  It is the nature of God to share every good thing, to give us gifts.

2.  The gifts are not private, but communal.  They are not to wear on our sleeves, but to use for the good of the body.  They are entrusted to us for God’s glory and God’s purposes.

I love that line in Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:  “the Spirit and the gifts are ours thro’ him who with us sideth . . . .”


It is my conviction, based on the Bible, the nature of God, and a lifetime of being in church, including 38 years of serving as a pastor here, that there is no such thing as an ungifted follower of Jesus.  Let me make this personal by speaking to you one-on-one.  God has gifted you to serve his purposes.  Don’t hide behind excuses.  Don’t hide behind false humility.  The God of the universe loves you intimately and has created you uniquely.  The Spirit of God has gifted you for serving the Body of Christ.  If you have not discovered your unique gifting, we want to help you.  I am personally available to you as are all the members of our staff.  We need your gifts at work and we want your gifts at work.  We believe that the God of the universe loves you intimately and has created you uniquely.  The Spirit of God has gifted you for serving the Body of Christ.  

To contact Harry Heintz about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180