A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx, on April 11, 2010.
1 Corinthians 12:4-31
She gives a whole new meaning to the expression, “A one-man-band.” Or maybe we should say, in this case, a “one-girl-band.” Now, I’m not endorsing her music, as I find it quite distasteful. However, I was intrigued with the idea that one teenage girl could cut a popular album and play every instrument in the band and sing every note of the vocals. Yes, that’s right, Kaitlyn DiBenedetto is a one-girl show. In fact, if you watch her music video, they’ve superimposed her playing the drums while she plays the electric guitar and bass guitar at the same time. Though dressed in a different wardrobe and hairstyle for each instrument, it’s still Kait playing each and every instrument as she sings the melody line as well as the backup. The youngster taught herself to play the drums at age five, picked up the guitar by eleven, and then learned to accompany herself with the bass. Appropriately, her alias recording name is “Just Kait.” Just Kait on the instruments and Just Kait doing the vocals. It’s all – and I mean all – about Kait. Kait can play every instrument and sing every note. (www.justkait.com; “Me and My Band,” www.homileticsonline.com)
Paul was not into one-man-bands or church situations where one individual tries to possess and express all spiritual gifts. Paul says that the church is comprised of many members with a variety of gifts, all working together to strengthen God’s kingdom.
Can you imagine if I tried to do every job at First Baptist Church of Amarillo? How could I both teach preschoolers in the nursery and preach at the same time? Could I preach in the Laotian and Vietnamese and Chin languages as well as English? What if I tried to do the announcements? That would never work. I don’t have Robby’s self-confidence. I mean, you all laugh at about ten percent of his jokes. I would be paranoid. But he just gets back up there every week, throwing out the corny jokes without a blink. If he thinks it’s funny, he doesn’t care whether we think it’s funny or not. And that makes it funny. Or what if I led the music and sang a melodious solo right before the sermon. And wouldn’t the youth love it if I were in charge of youth camp, BreakAway, this year – I might lead them in a study on medieval pneumatology or review the basic principles of textual criticism. That would really help them with the temptations of high school, wouldn’t it?
It can’t be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. There are a variety of people with a variety of gifts. We would all suffer if I tried to exercise gifts I do not possess.
Interestingly, as we begin in verse 4, notice that Paul speaks of the Spirit (verse 4), the Lord (verse 5), and God (verse 6). Now Paul never stated a clear theology of the Trinity, but the idea is interwoven in all of his thoughts. Here, we know he is thinking of one God, but he calls Him Spirit, Lord, and God.
Well, what does Paul tell us about our spiritual gifts?
I. All gifts – charisma – are signs of God’s free grace.
We see this in verse 4.
Now there are varieties of gifts....
This word charisma carries in it the root of the word “grace.” Grace gifts, we might translate. In fact, one translation reads this way: Now there are allotments of grace-gifts, but the same Spirit.
Your gifts are not earned by you; they are bestowed by God’s grace.
II. All members of the community receive the gifts of the Spirit, not just a few leaders or super-spiritual prodigies.
Notice verse 7.
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit....
“is given,” passive voice; Spirit is active; we receive the gifts.
Everyone in this room has a spiritual gift. Now there are many different spiritual gifts, and the list here is not exhaustive. He’s going to speak about the gift of tongues, the gift of preaching, the gift of faith, etc. But there are other places in Paul’s writings where we have other gift lists like Romans 12 or Ephesians 4. Even here in verse 28 of this chapter where he speaks of the gift of administration, the gift of helping, the gift of teaching. These gift lists in Paul’s letters are just representative, and we must be careful not to say these are the only spiritual gifts. Cataloguing spiritual gifts can be tricky business.
But all of us have a spiritual gift. What has God empowered you to do?
Some gifts are more evident. Some gifts are less evident. But all gifts are important. You may have the gift of caregiving as you take joy in cooking a meal for a funeral. That’s a gift. God has empowered you to be a caregiver through cooking. You might have the gift of hospitality – you just know how to take care of people, to love them, to make them feel at home.
III. Grace-gifts are distributed by the will and the wish of the Spirit.
Notice verse 7 again.
each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit.
And in verse 8, someone gets the word of wisdom “through the Spirit.”
And in verse 9, “another faith by the same Spirit.”
And the end of verse 9, again, “healing by the Spirit.”
And then he says in verse 10 there are all sorts of gifts, but, verse 11, “the one and same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
No gift is evidence of individual accomplishment. No one should regard himself as “gifted.”
If I were choosing, I would have selected Dan’s gift. After Dan sings a rousing solo, I repeat it all the way home in the car, at the top of my lungs, much to the chagrin of my children. A few Sunday nights ago, Dan sang “He Never Failed Me Yet.” After the service, Hannah Baker and my daughter, Chandler, were riding in the back of my car as I began to repeat Dan’s solo with all my vocal gusto. Chandler looked over at Hannah and mumbled in the back seat, “This is why I hate when Dan sings a solo.” I sound like Dan in my head. (American Idol)
You and I need to stop spending our time wishing we had someone else’s gift and accept the gift that God has given to us.
There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house and through the open gateway saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan [lofty] chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering stone. “How powerful that stone is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!”
Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the stone?” he thought. He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stonecutter. (Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh, quoted in Chicken Soup for the Soul #2, p. 74)
You need to use the gifts that God has given you. If you are a stonecutter, you ought to cut stones to the glory of God.
Rabbi Zuysa said, “In the world to come I shall not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I should be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” (Chicken Soup for the Soul #2, p. 28)
Are you using the gifts that God has given you?
IV. There is a closeness between Christ and the church (verse 12).
Paul uses the analogy of the human body. The body has eyes, ears, a nose, hands, and feet. What kind of person would we be if we had four hands and no feet? Or if we had four eyes and no ears? We could see, but we couldn’t hear. So he says just like the body has many parts, we expect him to say the church has many parts. But notice what he says in verse 12: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
We expect him to say so also is the church. But for Paul, Christ and the church are almost interchangeable. For the church is the body of Christ.
Congregation, if I know anything about the New Testament, I know this: You cannot be close to Christ and not be part of His body, part of His people. You cannot, at the same time, pretend to have devotion to the Lord and not love His people. We live in a day of individualized spirituality where people claim to be “spiritual” or even Christian and, yet, refuse to be part of church. “Nothing doing,” Paul says. Christ and the church are so cohesive, so identifiable that he can use Christ in an argument where you think he would use the word church.
V. All gifts are equally important (verses 15-22).
“You have beautiful eyes.” No one ever says, “You have beautiful ears.”
The foot is just as important as the hand. The ear is just as important as the eye.
Verse 22. On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary.
S. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, the young woman received this letter from the college:
“Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”
I’m going to give you an example, and I have not asked for permission to use this example. So my apologies to the offended.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at First Baptist Church, it might even say in the bulletin – it’s not my wording, but I’ve read it – “Observance of the Lord’s Supper led by Dr. Howard K. Batson.” It’s true I provide the devotional thought for the Lord’s table. I pass out the elements to our deacons who pass it out to you. I take the bread first and you follow. In some sense, it’s true; I lead the Lord’s Supper.
But there is another individual in this church who is actually more responsible for a meaningful Lord’s Supper than your pastor. I don’t come up here early and fill up all the little cups. I don’t go through the details of all the preparation. I don’t contact the committee to make sure they are ready to prepare the meal. I don’t count the number of trays in each stack and make sure the cloth is folded correctly. And after it’s over, I don’t collect all the little cups and clean up the trays. There is an individual in this church who is not a staff member, but he is most responsible for the Lord’s Supper as he serves as chairman of that committee right now and has several times in the past. His name is Steve Bedell. The Lord’s Supper is a meaningful worship service more because of Steve Bedell’s efforts – both physical and spiritual preparation – than mine or the deacons serving.
Jeff could step in and fill my role with five minutes notice. But Jeff would not have a clue about fulfilling all the duties of Steve Bedell and his committee.
But you didn’t know that. Steve doesn’t want to be a mouth. Steve is hands – quiet, gentle servant. But more important than the mouth.
Or I’ll give you another one. I’m baptizing tonight. I’ll walk out in a robe to the water. I recite a baptismal formula and I immerse the individual. But if either Mary Scobey or one of her committee members trained by her is not working with me on the baptism, then I get nervous. Mary, or her designated committee member, meets the baptismal candidate. She unlocks the baptismal doors. She gets the candidate sized for a robe. She makes them feel comfortable. She leads them around to the entrance of the baptistry. She greets them after they’re baptized and hands them a towel, and, finally, makes sure the wet robe is put in the right place.
You didn’t know that. You see me – not Mary. But the reality is Mary is more important than I to a successful baptismal service. It’s not that Mary doesn’t have leadership skills. She obviously does, given her career as an educational administrator. But in this ministry she chooses to be a quiet servant.
Again, Jeff could fill my baptismal duties with two minutes notice, but he would need training to fill Mary Scobey’s role.
The folks who sit on this stage are but the tip of the iceberg of the reality of the church.
I’ll take 100 Steve Bedells and Mary Scobeys and change the world. But mouths like mine are a dime a dozen.
There must be diversity.
He’s second only to Santa Claus in worldwide recognition. What’s his name? Ronald McDonald. Ronald McDonald started with Willard Scott wearing a cup on his nose and a box on his head. And now this crazy clown is the most recognized figure in fast food. In 1972 McDonald’s realized they needed more than one Ronald McDonald. So they created their own book, Ronald and How. It details the proper makeup application techniques, the appropriate Ronald behavior, especially around children – everything you ever needed to know or wanted to know about how to be Ronald McDonald is in this book. In fact, I have heard that twice a year there is a secret gathering of the estimated 250 Ronald McDonalds. You can’t see the gathering because McDonald’s policy forbids any two Ronalds from meeting in public lest the illusion of one Ronald be shattered. And at the Ronald convention, Ronald trainers enforce strict Ronald rules. Each Ronald must pass inspection or go home without a job. Hand movements. Makeup. It all has to be exact. Every member of the Ronald McDonald fraternity must be exactly the same. (“Mr. Goodwrench and Mr. McDonald,” www.homileticsonline.com)
The church is nothing like that. The church must have and can only survive with God-designed diversity.
The church of Corinth had ethnic diversity, socio/economic diversity, and a diversity of spiritual gifts.
VI. The gifts within the church are for the body.
Verse 7 “Common good”
There is no divine gift which does not bring with it a task. There is no grace which does not move to action. The grace-gift is validated by the service it renders.
Notice verses 25-26.
There should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Whether you are an ear or an eye, a hand or a foot, use your gift for the body of Christ.