The Gift that Keeps on Giving

by Elaine Maust
I Corinthians 12
May 25, 2008

It is the gift giving time of year. Okay, I know it isn’t Christmas, but think about it. We just had Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is coming up. And then there are spring and summer weddings and graduations. Been shopping for any gifts lately?

Our text today describes the Holy Spirit as a gift giver. Turn with me to I Corinthians 12.

By the way, if you aren’t sure where to find I Corinthians, just ask someone in Ms. Bonnie’s Sunday School class. Where are you, Ms. Bonnie’s students? These children are learning all the books of the Old and the New Testament. So they can tell you that I Corinthians comes right after Romans in the New Testament. And right before, you guessed it, II Corinthians. But back to our text.

It begins with this forthright statement: “I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts.” (v1)

First of all, who is talking? It is Paul. He helped to start a church in the town of Corinth, where he stayed with Pricilla and Aquilla, a couple who were sort of like co-pastors, like Duane and I.

Later as Paul was traveling around, he heard there were problems back in Corinth, and so he wrote them a letter. Maybe it would be as if Daryl Byler, the first pastor of Jubilee, heard we were struggling or getting out of line, and sent us a letter to straighten out a few things… Well, that’s what Paul was doing with this letter to the believers in the city of Corinth. The Corinthians. Eventually this letter became part of the Bible that we treasure.

Back to verse 1. Spiritual gifts? What’s that? This isn’t something that comes in a gift bag or tied with ribbon, is it? It is given inside us. It’s a gift, a special ability, the Holy Spirit gives.

Paul didn’t want this church to be confused about these gifts. And I don’t want Jubilee to be confused about gifts either. Let’s see what the Bible teaches us about Spiritual gifts, abilities given by God.

Check out the list of Spiritual gifts in the bulletin insert. Some of them may sound a little unfamiliar. What is the message of knowledge, for example? Others aren’t hard to understand at all, like singing. This list is a compilation of several lists from several places in the Bible. Some from this chapter, others from Romans or Ephesians. There are lots of different gifts in this long list.

1) Different gifts. Same God. (v4-6)

I Cor. 12:4-6. What is different and what is the same? Sounds like a game we played in kindergarten. Right?

Gifts are different. The way they serve and work are different. Some of you have the gift of intercessory prayer. Your service is quiet, behind the scenes. Some of you have the gift of teaching, and you do it in front of people. Different people. Different gifts. Different ways they are used.

And what is the same? The Spirit, the Lord, God. Another way to say, the Father, Son and Spirit. Last Sunday on Trinity Sunday, Edea preached about God, the three in one. Here we have it again: The Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God are the same. But the gifts they give and the way those gifts are used are different.

2) For the Common Good (v7-11)

(v7) (manifestation means how the gifts become obvious)

What do you think? Why are we given these gifts anyway? Let’s imagine that you work for a construction crew. You are going to build a shed, let’s say. The foreman gives to each of you some of the things you need, 2x4s, nails, shingles, siding, concrete… You get the idea. And your crew is expected to build the shed with the materials given. Imagine how absurd it would be to waste time talking about whether the nails are more important than the concrete. Or to get excited because you were put in charge of siding instead of shingles. Just build the shed already!

The Spirit gives gifts for the common good, for the best for everyone together. All the folks in the church to work together to build something useful and beautiful. So, some folks have the gift of healing or speaking in tongues and others have the gift of hospitality or art. All crucial to the project (the church). All for the common good. People aren‘t given the gift of miracles, for example, for themselves, but for the good of someone else.

And the gifts are given as the Holy Spirit chooses. (v11) As I prayed about this text, I imagined the Holy Spirit with a shopping cart. Okay, I know, stay with me here… And the Spirit is going up and down the celestial aisles, choosing gifts. The perfect gift for each of you. The Spirit who knows you better than your own mother and who knows what this church needs better than the wisest team of leaders we could assemble, is picking just the right gift for you, for each of us, for this time in Jubilee’s history.

Two of my nephews are graduating this year. One from College and one from high school. Nice young men who would make any Tia (aunt) proud. But I don’t know them as well as I would like. I sent them gifts, but I didn’t know them well enough to send them exactly what they wanted, exactly what they needed.

As the Spirit went shopping for your gift, however, you can be confident that whether you are given the gift of prophecy or the gift of giving it is the perfect gift for you, for you to share with all of us. (I Peter 4:10)

What an imagination God has! To be able to choose the best gifts for us and at the same time, for that to be the very gift that will bless this church. Amazing!

3) The body parts… (12-13)

Paul doesn’t use the illustration of a cosmic shopping center to describe the Spirit’s gift giving. He says… (v12) He uses the illustration of the human body. He uses that to explain that no matter who we are, we are part of Christ’s body, the church. Okay, this is a lot to think about. Let’s break it down.

First, remember the Corinthian church was a wonderful, maybe toxic mix of people. I imagine the great excitement of the night Paul’s letter arrived. I see them sitting around in a room in someone’s house. A candle is lit and everybody is holding his or her breath as the next section of the scroll is read. You didn’t think they each got this letter from Paul emailed to their work computers, did you? And around the circle are slaves and slave owners. All part of this church. People of different races and religious backgrounds. And they hear the words, (v13). Do you suppose their eyes met? No matter who you were to start with, you are all part of the same church now, regardless.

Same for Jubilee.

4) Belongs together, regardless (14-20)

Then we have the delightful section that Jan’s class shared with us. (Who says the Bible doesn’t have a sense of humor?) Back to the parts of the human body…

Imagine my foot looking up at my hand and thinking, “Hmmm. That hand doesn’t look like me. Fingers that can do anything and all I’ve got are these stubby toes. And come to think of it, I’m on the bottom of this whole outfit. I must not belong.”

Ridiculous! (v15) Just because my foot is different from my hand doesn’t mean it does not belong. Hello. I need it. And even if it says it doesn’t fit in, guess what, like it or not, my foot is still part of my body. How would I function without my feet or my hands or my lungs…

What if all our parts were just alike? That’s the question in verse 17… No, God has put our bodies together in a marvelous way.

Of course you know what Paul is getting at here. Don’t we? The fact is, we are different, we have different life experiences, different sins, different backgrounds, different gifts, different ways we function in the church… That’s a good thing. It is the way God planned for it to be. Looking around and saying, “there is no one else like me, so I guess I don’t belong” makes about as much sense as the brain saying, “well I’m the only part just like me, guess I just don’t fit in.”

5) Must not disregard each other (21-26)

And it would be equally preposterous for my eye to look down at my hand and say, “I don’t need you. Look how much more important I am.” (v 21) All the parts are important.

Both my mother and my sister are missing their thyroid gland. Silly little piece of flesh about the size… well, if you put your two thumbs together… about that size. Who needs a thyroid? Right? Wrong! They will both be on medication the rest of their lives. Without their thyroid their whole body is messed up! Thyroid affects metabolism, body temperature, heart, digestion, reproduction… Even if a part seems insignificant, the whole body is less effective without it.

Our body is not a collection of independent parts, it is one machine, efficient, connected, cooperating. So linked that if I mess up my back, I hurt all over. If I get a headache I get can get sick to my stomach. (v26)

But wait a minute. We are reading these words about body parts… but this is really about the church, right? About how every person, no matter what, is important, right?

Can we be honest here? Some of us feel (wonderful as Jubilee may be) that we don’t belong at Jubilee. What’s behind those feelings of being left out? Do you feel someone else is looking at you with eyes, words or actions that say, “you are not part of the body”? Like the head that says to the foot, “I don’t need you” (21)?

Do you have a gift that you feel is misunderstood or under appreciated? Or maybe because of sins you’ve committed that you are a weaker part that is not yet considered indispensable? (24)

Or maybe you have looked around, and believe me, anyone in this church could do this at any time, and say, “look, there is no one here like me.” Like the ear that says, “because I don’t fit in with the eyes, I don’t belong.” (16)

Or maybe it’s like the eye that says, “I don’t need you.” (21) Maybe you feel that because you are more sophisticated and important or right (or whatever) than any of the other parts. By stepping above, you have stepped away.

Maybe you feel that you don’t fit in because you’ve only been at Jubilee for a few years and you still have no idea what is going on. Maybe you feel you don’t fit in because you’ve been here forever and the church is different and maybe you no longer belong. Whether you have been here for two Sundays or 1,000, you are part of this body now! Maybe it is grief or pain or sin that separates you from you brothers and sisters.

Whatever motivates you to feel excluded, to pull away, it harms us all. And the whole body, whether you notice it or not, walks with a limp for your distance.

I have had a number of times in my 25 years at Jubilee, when I felt that I didn’t belong. Can I tell you about one of those times? It was about 8-10 years ago. My children were leaving home right about the time many of you had babies or little kids in your home. The pain of saying goodbye to my children was so powerful that it felt like a log chain had been hooked to my breastbone and my body was being pulled apart. Okay, that’s a little graphic, but it hurt. A lot. I looked around and saw people with little children, thought that I didn’t fit in. Not the truth of course, but I felt that way. I heard people talking about science fair projects or ball games or breast feeding. I felt alone. I felt that I could not talk about this because who of my friends wanted to hear about missing children when they would have been happy for just one night away or even one evening without homework duty? I wondered how I missed the memo to have children later in life or to have more than two! I felt alone. I didn’t belong.

Of course now I see that my being at a different place in life than many of my friends at Jubilee didn’t exclude me, instead it gave me important perspective. Besides, how could I have been the pastor I wanted to be and been the mother of little children I wanted to be at the same time? Instead of making me less a part of the body, it actually gave me potential to be of more value. (24b-25a)

What does this Scripture say to us this morning? The Spirit has given you the gifts that you have. God brought you to Jubilee. What will you do to embrace your place in this body? If you are feeling like the foot that doesn’t belong, it is time to talk to someone who has stepped on your toes. Today is a good day to let someone know how their comments sound in your ears. Please talk to Jubilee’s leadership and tell us what is excluding you. Ask God what gifts you have been given and how they are indispensable to Jubilee. Who is sitting beside you this morning feeling they do not belong? Will you talk to them?

Every part of the body is important. Is there someone you have been disregarding? Who needs you to let them know that they are a valued, indispensable part of the church body? That without them Jubilee would be like a one handed….

6) This is about the church after all (27-31)

This is what the Bible says, (v27) Whether slave or free, Greeks or Jews, administrators, helpers or healers, all are part of the body. Paul wrote these words for the church in Corinth, But the Bible is alive! And this muggy Sunday morning in Meridian, MS, God is speaking these words to Jubilee.

We are part of the body. The Holy Spirit chose gifts especially suited for us and has chosen us for Jubilee. Let’s receive and celebrate each other’s uniqueness!

On June 15 we will do exactly that. On that day during the Sunday School time, we will have a special service in which each of us can explore what gifts God has given us. There’s a list of Spiritual gifts in the bulletin. On the other side of the insert, there are some questions to help you begin to think about what your gifts might be.

v7 said our gifts are for the common good. How are you sharing your gifts at Jubilee? How would you like to? It is as if the gifts of the spirit come with a tag that says, “for you to share.” If we don’t share them it is a loss to the whole church.

There are also a few questions to start us thinking about the gifts of others here at Jubilee. So who do you know that has the gift of faith or discernment or encouragement? What are the gifts of the folks sitting on our bench? In the Youth Group? In your Care Group? Or in your Sunday School Class? Who will you encourage today by telling them a gift the Spirit has given them that blesses all of us?

Whatever your background, whatever your gift, you, Jubilee, “you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” (v27) May God give us grace and joy to function as the body of Christ that we are blessed to be.

Response: Hymnal, A Worship Book #726

I Corinthians 12
1) Different Gifts. Same God. (v4-6)
2) For the Common Good (v7-11)
3) The body parts… (12-13)
4) …belong together, regardless… (14-20)
5) …and must not disregard each other. (21-26)
6) This is about the Church after all (27-31)


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