Many churches suffer from division between those who claim to be Charismatic Christians and those who do not. I was brought up in a Pentecostal church. We had an attitude towards all non-Pentecostal churches. We thought them unspiritual, boring, ritualistic and dead. In my spiritual pilgrimage I have found churches that lacked energy and fire. I have also observed great abuses within the Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. Many things have been done in the name of the Spirit of God in which I know God had no part. In fact, they are embarrassment to the cause of Christ.
I always thought that the Early Church was composed of saints who got most everything right. They lived exemplary lives and did not find the world around them all that tempting. They prayed fervently, served one another diligently and selflessly, evangelized passionately, worshiped enthusiastically, studied scripture carefully, performed miracles regularly, lived from day to day in harmony, and pretty much lived near perfect lives. That is how I thought the Early Christians lived. At least, that is how I misread the New Testament. One of my seminary professors long ago said something that really stuck with me. Dr. Catherine Gonzalez, a Church history professor told the class, "The Church never had golden era." When we turn to Paul’s letter to Christians in Corinth, written around the year 57 AD it is like lifting the roof off of the first century Church and peering into a slice of their daily lives. The Corinthian correspondence allows us to glimpse into the life of those early Christians. What we see there is not so pretty. The Church from the very beginning was made up of people like us. Just consider the context of Corinth. Corinth was a large cosmopolitan center. The Church members came mostly from the middle class gentile population. Before they became Christians some worshipped other gods and participated in pagan rituals. Business persons, artisans, shoe makers, tent makers; a few public officials attended the worship services; just everyday people. However, we find in that church people embroiled in deep conflicts and contradictions. Imagine if you were a pastor seeking the position of senior pastor of the Church in Corinth. What would the Church profile look like? They had
- · Divisions following different leaders
- · Favorite ministers who baptized them
- · Incest celebrated as Christian freedom
- · Lawsuits between members
- · Some members going to prostitutes
- · Divorce, marriage among Christians, Sexual relationships in marriage, marriage between believers and non-believers. Some in Corinth thought marriage was a sin.
- · Buying and eating food offered to idols in the market place
- · Can Christians attend pagan festivals and participate?
- · Behavior at the Lord’s Table: some were getting drunk
- · Dress and proper décor during a church service
- · Chapters 12-14 about the abuse of certain Spiritual gifts
- · some teachers teaching that there is no such thing as the resurrection from the dead
Today let us turn our attention to 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul deals with their problems in the way they perceived and exercised Spiritual gifts. Paul dedicated three whole healthy chapters to address specific problems in Corinth concerning these gifts. But first let’s ask, ‘What are spiritual gifts?’
What are spiritual gifts? A definition:
Paul uses two words to in the Greek which we translate as “gifts” or “spiritual gifts”. One word is pneumatikos (pneumatikos); the other word Paul uses is Charismata (carismata). Paul addressed a problem about the way the Corinthian Christians perceived and exercised these special abilities. It is from that second word that we get the term ‘Charismatic’. ‘Charis’ ( Caris) means ‘grace’. When we add the ‘mata’ at the end it makes it a plural in the Greek. The term itself refers to ‘graces’. We could translate the term charismata as ‘grace gifts’. That is, special abilities given by God to the various members of the Church as channels or means of God’s grace to use them in connecting another with Christ. I would like to offer a contemporary definition of spiritual gifts: Spiritual gifts are any abilities, skills, and talents (natural or acquired) as well as dispositions and life experiences which, when offered to God becomes means of God’s grace to another. We may think of some gifts are very ordinary and every day, like the ability to help others, the gift of service, the gift of administration, showing mercy, and teaching. Paul even calls marriage a gift. These are all listed as spiritual gifts in Paul’s writings.
Diversity of spiritual gifts
Paul reminded the Corinthians that there was a variety of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian Christians had an unhealthy focus on the more exotic of the gifts, especially speaking in tongues. Paul listed many gifts in these three chapters. Some appear very ordinary and mundane. Others are extraordinary. Paul lists the following as gifts. Paul lists:
- The message of wisdom
- Message of knowledge
- Miraculous powers
- Distinguishing between spirits
- Interpretation of tongues
- Helping others
In Romans 12 (which Paul most likely wrote from Corinth) he listed other gifts not found in 1 Corinthians: We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8. He adds to the list serving, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, and showing mercy.
Elsewhere Paul speaks of both marriage or celibacy as a gift (Charism) These lists are not exhaustive. The list is only exemplary of the wide variety of abilities, talents, and stations in life which the Holy Spirit uses as channels to connect to another person.
I think of Diane P. who visited shut-ins as her ministry. She simply visited every week, took little gifts and sat and talked for hours with the ill and the elderly who were lonely and
homebound. She had a gift of mercy.
I think of John Waterhouse, Obi Ernest, Jake Chan, Damien Chee who share his skills in setting up the sound system of our church and arranging the stage. Every Sunday these men arrive early and begins the set up and testing. This is the gift of helps, the gift of service; I think of my friend Marta who shared with alcoholics and drug addicts her wisdom born of bitter life experiences which, when offered to God became a source of healing for others. I think of Doris who often wrote me little notes of encouragement back when I served as her pastor. She had a gift of encouragement. I know someone whose gift is contributing to the needs of others. This person looks for valuable missions and ministries to which he can contribute money. He wants to remain anonymous as most true givers do.
Other gifts like speaking in tongues, miracles, the gifts of healing. appear to us as more exotic, Naturally we are more curious abut those kinds of gifts. So were the Corinthians. In fact, as we read between the lines, we get the feeling that they preferred speaking in tongues to instruction. Their worship services were punctuated with various members speaking in tongues out loud and altogether. I imagine the worship services as wild events in Corinth. While enthusiasm is good this caused some problems.
The problem of Spiritual gifts in Corinth
How did these grace gifts become a problem in Corinth?
Problems in Corinth about Spiritual gifts
· They thought spiritual gifts marked spiritual maturity
· They had an unhealthy fascination with the more exotic gifts
· They created a spiritual one-up-manship by those who spoke in tongues
· They preferred personal ecstasy to solid instruction
· They used the gifts to edify themselves but neglected the congregation and the cause of Christ
This was a beginning of what I will call a spiritual one-up-manship that divided the Church between those who had and exercised certain gifts, especially tongues and those who did not. A similar problem exists today. I have met people who, in the name of the Holy Spirit, and because of their spiritual experiences cause divisions in the church. Some become "connoisseurs of fine churches" as they sample the worship and wish it all to their own taste. They judge the preaching by whether or not the preacher ascribes to latest faith teaching, demonology or fad theology. This is all very hurtful to the church. There are people that by the very way they say “I’ll be praying for you” you just wish they wouldn’t.
What is the purpose of the gifts?
Paul draws our attention to the Holy Spirit’s purpose for giving the gifts. He affirmed the variety of gifts (there are many) but he also directs our attention to how to use these gifts properly. He did not want the Church to lose its energy or enthusiasm. He does this in an insightful way. In Chapter 12 Paul acknowledges that there are many gifts but one body. Each gift has a role to play in the life of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ.
Paul compares the Church to a body. A body has a variety of members. We have hands and feet, ears and mouth and eyes. Each member has different function. To Paul Christ exists through the Holy Spirit in the Church as a body, a single organism with many parts each with a different function. A modern theologian, the young German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it this way: The Church is Christ existing as community.
To some the Church is only a social entity. The Church is a volunteer association, like many others; like the American Club here in Taiwan. People meet together because we find people like us, often on the same socio-economic level. We share enough in common interests with each other and enjoy the company of others like us so that we keep coming. The Deep South in the USA where I come from is known as the Bible Belt. People go to Church often there. When I moved into the North East I learned that some parts of the USA are not as "churchy-fied" as are Georgia and Alabama. In the Bible Belt church is a place to meet business associates. It is a place to be well connected. To be an upstanding citizen you go to church. Politicians make it known that they are church going family folk. Churches have soft ball teams and basketball leagues. Churches sponsor bowling tournaments. There are senior citizens groups that go on tours together. One church I heard about planned a tour to Atlantic City so that everyone could go to the casinos and have Christian fun together as they gamble and play the tables. Just good Christian fun!
To Paul the church was more than a social club. Look at what he writes The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 Paul lays this out in Chapter 12. Paul affirms each gift, but he wants to place them in a proper perspective. The gifts are not marks of spiritual attainment. They are not signs of spiritual maturity. Notice what he writes in Chapter 12:7:Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. The Holy Spirit doesn’t distribute gifts as marks of personal attainment or spiritual maturity. They are not for private enjoyment. God aims the gifts for the upbuilding of others. In fact, that is what love means: Love means to invest out time, our energy and our resources for the spiritual to betterment of another person. We use our gifts to invest in the spiritual well being of others.
Who has these gifts?
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Notice, "…to each one". That is, we all are gifted in various ways. Some of us know our gift and others are still trying to find it. Paul even instructs us to seek the gifts. Paul urges us to…"…eagerly desire spiritual gifts…”
Every Christian is gifted by God and can seek to exercise more gifts. From God’s part He distributes the gifts as he wills. For…"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines". And again "…God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." (1 Cor.12:18)
After Paul makes his case the there is only one body but many parts, one Spirit but many gifts he introduces the concept of Love. "Agape" in the Greek. Chapter 13 is one of the most familiar, and yet misunderstood chapters in the Bible. We know it as the love chapter. It is read in the States around Valentine’s Day. Many couples select it to be read in their wedding ceremonies. These thirteen verses are a kind of poem to love. They form a beautiful description of love and are appropriate for weddings. When Paul wrote these words he was not thinking of love between a man and a woman at all. The context here concerns Spiritual gifts, and how we should use them.
In Chapter 13 Paul writes eloquently about LOVE. But in this context love means something very specific. Love, in this context is not a feeling of goodwill. It certainly is not romantic love. It is not about falling in love. In chapter 13 love means that which we do in order to build up Christ’s body, the Church. Paul means this: Whether we speak in tongues, exercise prophecy, have spiritual insights, give our goods away, even offer to be martyred in the fire, it accounts for nothing if the end is not the upbuilding and strengthening of Christ’s body, the Church. This means that this business of Spiritual gifts is not a light matter. God gives the gifts to be used for Divine Service. Gifts are not optional. God gives these gifts and calls us to exercise them to the end that the Church may be built up. Some gifts are for the nurturing of the Christians. Some are given to draw others into the fold. But all gifts are given for the "common good".
No one here is excluded. There can be no excuses that I have no gift. We may honestly say, "I am not certain of what gift God has given". That may be an honest expression of uncertainty. The Church then can play a vital role in your life in helping you discover your gift and use it. But we are not free to bury the gift. Jesus told that remarkable story of the Master who gave his stewards various gifts and left them to use them. Upon return the reckoning day came and they were not judged by how much they had been given but on whether of not they had used their gifts at all. The one given 5 talents had gained 5 more to his master’s pleasure. The one given two talents gained two more to his master’s joy. But the one given only one talent had buried it in the earth and left it unused. That servant met with his master’s displeasure. You and I, brothers and sisters, are gifted. For every Christian has a gift by which to serve, every Christian is a Charismatic.