Grace gifts from God for the good of the church

Posted on 14 Jan 2018, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.

14 January 2018 11 AM
Rev Hans Vaatstra
Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-13
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11,28

Grace gifts from God for the good of the church

1 Corinthians 1:1-11

The Bible uses a number of different analogies to describe the church each giving a different impression such as a temple with Christ as the corner and capstone and each member a living stone in that temple. The image of the church shown in Revelation 21 of the New Jerusalem is truly magnificent.

In Ephesians 4 and here in 1 Corinthians 12 the church is like body with each member contributing to its wellbeing.

In Ephesians 6:10 to 20 Christians are urged to fight against the devil’s schemes which means the church can also be seen as an army fighting the good fight against sin and evil.. Now just as a regular army consists of people who may look the same, soldiers all dressed in khaki, they all have a variety of positions and roles necessary  for the army to function well.  So too there is unity in the church we are all one in Christ, we wear the same Christian ‘uniform’ as it were.  There is as Ephesians 4 says “one Lord, One faith One baptism, but there is also diversity, varieties of gifts, varieties of ministries and varieties of effects.  Both unity and diversity are necessary for the spiritual well-being of the church.

This is clearly evident in our text.

We’ll look at it in two parts, in the first place

  1. The giver of gifts

The text says “there are varieties of gifts and the same Spirit, varieties of ministries but the same Lord, varieties of effects but the same God who works all things in all persons.”  This tells us that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to help build up the church. One only needs to read through the book of Acts to see the evidence of that, especially Acts 2 and the story of Pentecost with the Holy Spirit alighting on the Apostles heads as tongues of fire and enabling them to speak a variety of languages.  Acts 2 also tells us how the church was established in the power of the Holy Spirit with 3,000 converts in one day.

In Ephesians 4:8 it says he that Christ gives gifts to men, some apostles, some prophets, some teachers and so on. That list or the lists in 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12 are not exhaustive but together help describe the ministry of the church. The nature of that ministry reflects Jesus own ministry highlighted on the night of his arrest when he washed his disciples feet  and said “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done. That means the gifts we receive are given so that we also may serve as Jesus did.

This humble service is the work which Jesus commends in Matthew 25:34 to 35 where it says “Then the king will say to those on his right come you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, naked and clothed you, sick and you visited me I was in prison and you came to me.”

Paul also wrote, “There are varieties of effects but the same God who works in all persons” The idea here is that God also provides the spiritual energy to use one’s gifts in service of the church. Sometime that is called the unction of the Holy Spirit a term often applied to the Sprit enabling a preacher to preach.

The phrase in verse 6 working all things in all people tells us that our service is not limited to just the building up of the church. God wants his truth known everywhere. Therefore God would have us serve in every area of society, in education, medicine, the building trades, in service industries in our families.  He wants us to minister to all people and gives us the power to help heal a broken world, those who may needs help physically emotionally spiritually and materially.

So the point is that He is the triune God Father, Son and Holy Spirit who gives us a variety of gifts and who empowers us spiritually and physically to use them to serve our church, serve our community and our country. And so some have the gift of public speech, others have the gift of singing or playing musical instruments in church to accompany the worship of God. Others can teach, give wise counsel, are artistic, creative can compose poetry or music. And others are able to give leadership in many areas of private, ecclesiastical and public life.

And just as the Lord Jesus came to serve,  God gives us gifts for the same purpose; service; in order to  advance His kingdom on earth, build his church and then also for the common good of all people. Then though us utilising our spiritual gifts Christ makes his name known in all nations, races, people and families all over the world. And so even now the name of Jesus is known more than any other name.

But we depend on the Triune God. He is the one who works in us to both to will and to work for his good pleasure. The source of the gift is from God, the sphere in which we administer our gift is from God and the strength we have to use our gift is from God. To Him be the glory.

  1. In the second place let us consider the types of gifts and their purpose.

In verse 8-12 two categories of gifts are immediately apparent. There are sign gifts and ordinary gifts.

  1. a) The sign gifts included gifts of healing effecting of miracles prophecy and tongues. These sign gifts are the direct work of God performed in such a way that they seem to defy the laws of nature as we understand them and so are often called supernatural. They were also given along with new revelation from God. For example in the book of Exodus God performed miracles through Moses and Aaron before and after the crossing of the red sea. In Joshua 10:13 the Sun stood still for a day until the Israelites had defeated the Amorites. Many miracles were performed during Elijah and Elisha’s day. In Daniel’s day his three friends survived the fiery furnace and Daniel survived the lion’s den. In New Testament times Jesus ministry included miraculous healings, casting out demons raising the dead and feeding the multitudes to name a few.

The history of the early church also mentions miracles including the raising of Dorcas from the dead healings exorcisms the miraculous release of Peter and Silas from their imprisonment.

When it comes to these miracles 2 Corinthians 12:12 says that the gift of miracles was the distinctive mark of an apostle.

Well at the end of the apostolic it does appear that miracles seemed to have died out. Why? Because the purpose of the miracles was to accompany and authenticate new revelation which was given through the prophets and apostles as it says in Hebrews 1:1. And through Jesus Christ So John 20:30 & 31 says Jesus performed many other signs which are not written in this book but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ the son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.

As well as that Matthew Mark Luke Paul Peter John and James give further revelation from God verbally or through visions or as direct eyewitnesses with the result that what they have written is inspired by God authoritative, sufficient and clear as to the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ so there really is no further need for any new revelation. The word of God tells us in 2 Timothy 3:15 & 126 that  the sacred writings are able to give us wisdom  that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ  and that All scripture is God breathed and profitable for every good work.

That tells us we can trust the Bible. But we cannot necessarily trust those who since apostolic times  claim to have received a prophecy or revelation from the Lord or those who say that the Lord communicated directly with them telling them what to do  or what to say  to silence a challenger, sway an audience or gain a following.

All too often men have claimed to receive direct revelation from God and made predictions or set dates for the end of the world and time and time again they have been proven wrong. The often-made claim “the Lord spoke to me”  is very subjective and emotive.. Fellow believers are not always convinced especially if what they hear contradicts God’s revealed word in the Bible.’

You can never really be quite sure that the healings or tongues speaking at Pentecostal type worship service is authentic. But when Jesus or the apostles healed there was no such uncertainly. All who witnessed their miracles were amazed at the sudden and miraculous transformation even Jesus enemies!  When Lazarus was raised from the grave the Jews wanted to murder Lazarus in order to get rid of the evidence and discredit Jesus. When the apostle spoke in tongues many people of different nationalities clearly heard the gospel in their own language. Listen to tongues speaking in Pentecostal churches now and who knows what is being said but more about that in chapter 14.

In any case you can never be sure about claims people make about miracles and direct revelation today but we can trust the Bible which sufficient for faith and life.  The miracles signs and wonders had their purpose during the days of ongoing new revelation. They were given was to authenticate the new revelation and bear witness to Jesus that he is the son of God. Therefore supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit given to men for that purpose are no longer necessary. So, as we confess with the Westminster Confession of Faith article 6,  there is no further new revelation. Rather there is inward illumination of the Holy Spirit.

  1. b) Which brings me to the gifts of the spirit which continue in the church. These are listed in this chapter including verse 28, Ephesians 4 and Romans 12. When you combine the lists you end up with about 20 gifts altogether and even there we needn’t think that Paul’s lists are exhaustive. God is not limited to these lists.

So briefly from the text, wisdom and knowledge are gifts which God gives to the church today along with faith.  There are those who know their Bibles and its doctrines well. There are those who are wise and have the ability to apply the word of God faithfully to every area of life. There are those who are good at giving or showing mercy and who are especially compassionate. We can think of the Good Samaritan who helped the wounded man laying by the roadside. He dressed his wounds and purchased accommodation for him in a motel to help him recuperate. There are some in the church who are good administrators.  Perhaps Lydia; a business woman, had a role like that in the church at Philippi. We can be thankful that we have good musicians in our churches who can accompany the congregational singing.

Think also of Dorcas whom we read about in Acts 9, a woman abounding in good deeds and charity. Priscilla and Aquilla excelled in encouraging both Paul and Apollos. There are those who have good discernment such as the Bereans in Acts 16; who had the ability to discern truth from error. Others are practical and able to serve on building committees or committees of management.  Titius Justice comes to mind in Acts 18. He opened his home to the church at Corinth when they were turned out of the synagogue.

In our church too we see similar gifts and in the exercise of our spiritual gifts we see the faithfulness of God in that he gives us what we need and more for our church to run well. As Paul wrote in verse 11 the same spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

Of course that truth comes with a challenge to all of us. We must ask ourselves what is my gift what am I good at and how can I use that gift to serve the Lord and his church?

  1. c) That then brings us to the purpose of the gifts and that is clearly stated in verse 7 to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

In case you are not sure about what your spiritual gift is,  it says here that to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit.  That means that the Holy Spirit lives in each person who believes and His presence in your life is made manifest or is seen in which ever spiritual gift you may have and use for church and kingdom. In the life of every Christian the Holy Spirit reveals himself in one way or another. You cannot say as a Christians that you have no spiritual gift or that you can’t be of service to Christ one way or another.

Rather if you are a Spirit Filled Christian you then you’ll be asking what can I do to serve my Lord and help build his church? How can I promote Christ and Christianity, Biblical ethics and  the gospel in my community . So some serve on session, others teach Bible in Schools others join organisations like Gideons  International who distribute Bibles or Voice for Life who  promote the sanctity of human life in our society. Other join Christian groups at university. Another person might be, be involved in a building or management committee and so on.

This is of course why we are all different. If a symphonic orchestra was made up purely of trumpets or cellos the sound would only be a fraction as good as the sound which is made up of all the various instruments playing in harmony in an orchestra. Similarly our church works best and is most united as a church when every member uses his or her gift for the common good and to the glory of God.

Amen.