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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

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Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Concerning Spiritual Gifts - January 17, 2016 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Last week we began by briefly mentioning that we celebrated Epiphany on January 6. Actually and unfortunately, I guess not too many people really celebrate Epiphany in our world today. I might suggest, tongue in cheek, that the reason it is not a big celebration is because it does not sell very well. Think about it, the big holidays according to our world are those that sell; Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day.
 
Before we get to our text for this morning, I do want to speak another brief word about Epiphany, because we are now in the Epiphany season and will be until Ash Wednesday, which is three weeks from this Wednesday, and is the beginning of Lent. As I said last week, the word “epiphany” means appearing or manifestation. If you ever wondered where we get the word in the hymn, “God in flesh made manifest,” the word “manifest” means to appear in the form of. And so, during Epiphany we celebrate that God appeared, was born in flesh in the form of the person of Jesus.
 
But there is more to Epiphany. Epiphany is proclaimed by many as the Gentile Christmas. When the Magi followed the star and finally made it to the house where Jesus was with His mother and father, these were the first non-Jews, the first Gentiles, to bear witness to the manifestation of God in flesh. Thus, we are reminded, as the promise was first made in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior and that promise was given even before there was a Jew or Gentile, indeed as all nations and cultures were in the DNA of Adam and Eve, so Jesus was born to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Yes, we celebrate Jesus coming for us, Gentiles.
 
Now, getting to our text for this morning. Paul speaks to us concerning spiritual gifts. And we might say, “Praise the Lord for Paul’s words,” as there are many in our world who get confused about such gifts. Paul begins by pointing us where we need to be pointed. He begins by speaking of the gift Giver. It all begins with God. God is the active party giving the gifts He has to give. God gives and we are given too, especially concerning what we call these spiritual gifts. Paul begins by speaking of the gift of faith. We begin at verse one, “1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (v. 1-3).
 
Paul’s words here remind us that faith is a gift from God. Faith is not something we get or do on our own. Faith is not our cooperating with God, nor is it making a decision for God, nor saying the “Believer’s Prayer.” Notice Paul’s words. First, he tells us that noone who is a Christian can curse Jesus. Notice the flow: no one speaking in the Spirit of God is a reference to us Christians, because the Spirit of God is not in a non-Christian, as they are the ones who refuse and reject the Spirit of God, thus they are non-Christians. So, only a non-Christian, one who refuses and rejects God can curse God.
 
On the other hand, no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. These are God’s Words through Paul. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, one cannot choose Jesus. Thus, we rightly understand that faith is a gift from God and lack of faith is the fault of one refusing the gifts. If we are saved, God gets the credit. If we are condemned, it is our own fault. And so we see the importance of baptism, and we see God’s work especially when we baptize an infant, they are not choosing Jesus, but being passively brought, and having Jesus choosing them. Jesus puts His name on us at our baptism as the water and the words spoken by the Lord’s instrument, the pastor, are put on us. As a pastor, all I am in a baptism is an instrument. When we witness a baptism we see the Holy Spirit of God doing the doing, putting faith in the heart of the one being baptized, giving that person forgiveness and writing their name in the book of Life. It is all God’s doing.
 
And why does God give faith? Paul continues by explaining the gifts and works of the Holy Spirit. We pick up at verse four, “4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 4-11).
 
Paul mentions a variety of gifts including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, as well as the ability to speak and interpret tongues. These are gifts that are given only to Christians, only by the Holy Spirit, and only for the purpose of service to the Lord in His Kingdom. The main purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the Church as a whole and not for anyone’s special interest or usage.
 
So, we must understand what the gifts are not. The gifts are not necessarily individually given nor discerned. In other words, Paul does not specify that each Christian will receive any one specific gift. A few years back, and I would suppose it goes on even today, there were “spiritual gifts inventories” that a person would fill out in order to discover one’s own spiritual gift. One of the problems with this misunderstanding of the gifts God gives is that this can be misleading. People can be “tested” and find they have gifts they do not really have, because God has not given them such gifts, such as a woman discovering she has the gift of being a pastor. Although the Lord can do whatever He wants to do, the evidence is that some of these gifts has faded as we have moved past their purpose in the first century. In other words, although the Lord gave the apostles gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and the like, in order to attest to their authority, as that generation passed on, so did the gifts and the use of such gifts because they were and are no longer necessary.
 
Today, the Holy Spirit continues to give gifts. The gifts He gives He gives through the means of Grace. And He gives these gifts for the purpose of strengthening His people, extending His Kingdom here in this place, and for the praise and glory of His Holy Name. Any use of these gifts beyond this usage is indeed a misuse and is not from God. In other words, any misuse for personal gain, power, fame or privilege is not from God. Yes, I am speaking of such usage as we might see in particular among TV evangelists, faith healers and the like, as if what they are doing is in fact real.
 
So, what does this mean? What is Paul telling us this morning? First, Paul is reminding us of the bondage of our will. We may think we have free will and we do, but the free will we have is completely tainted by sin. According to our free will all we do and all we want to do is sin. Even as Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Paul puts it this way, we cannot say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
 
On the other hand, we do have an indication of one’s salvation. Paul’s words remind us that when the Holy Spirit gives faith, He also gives spiritual gifts. And, although we may not be able to discern exactly what our spiritual gift is, we might rightly discern that the purpose for our spiritual gifts is to use them in service to our Lord and in service to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
 
We will then say, “yes,” the Holy Spirit gives gifts to do good works. We are to do good works, not for the sake of doing good works, not for the sake of earning something, but simply as a response of faith. In other words, to do good works, truly good works, is a natural response of faith. I would suggest three guides for knowing if we are truly doing good works according to God. A good work in God’s eyes is one that is motivated by Him, working in and through us by Him and done to His glory. So, most of the time when we are actually doing a good work, we do not even realize it as such. I guess that gives us an indication that this is really not something that comes natural to us.
 
And one more word on good works. According to Paul, our good works are to be done for the whole of the Church. Even Jesus reminds us that whatever we do for one of the least of His children, we have done it for Him, who is the head of the Church.
 
As we make our way through the Epiphany season, we continue to celebrate that Jesus also came to save Gentiles and to give us faith and spiritual gifts. Paul’s words, from God, remind us that God knows us. He knows our nature, that we are conceived and born in sin. He knows that we cannot do anything to save ourselves. He knows that we cannot choose or accept God. As we well confess in the explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
 
Again, as always we are then pointed back to God. God gives, God does and we are given to and done to. And lest we forget, God gives and does through means or instruments. When we are privileged to witness a baptism we are witnessing God working through Holy Baptism, so we also almost every service of worship witness God working through Confession and Absolution to give us the gifts He has to give. Although we might not recognize it is through the readings of Holy Scripture and at this moment through the preaching of that word, and in a bit we will witness God working through His Holy Supper to give us the gifts He has to give. Through these means, these means of grace, our Lord gives the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation.
 
And our response is simply a response of faith, a response of thanks and praise. Thanks be to God. We can do nothing else and we can do nothing else except by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us as Paul so well reminds us this morning, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” No one can give thanks and respond to faith except in the Holy Spirit.
 
And so we do simply respond with a response of faith this morning and say, To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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