The Importance of Spiritual Gifts
Tim Temple

Introduction

Some people think that old ways are the best ways. Other people think that we have to find some way to do things differently. Some think that evangelism is all that matters. Others think that if you don't give a dissertation on who the Antichrist's mother-in-law is, then you are not all that you should be as a Bible scholar and Christian. As I say these things, probably most of us can think of people who fit those various categories, but if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that all of those people in all of those different categories are sincere in their love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why do we have all those differences? Why aren't all Christians like me, or why aren't all Christians like you? Is there something wrong with having those differences? Doesn't the Bible talk about one Lord, one faith, one baptism? Doesn't the Bible say to be all of one mind, of one spirit? The passage that we begin today deals with those very questions. I Corinthians, chapters 12, 13, and 14, are some of the most important chapters in the whole Bible related to serving the Lord and related to interpersonal relationships between Christians.

I think that particularly in the last couple of decades these chapters have been some of the most talked about and yet least practiced chapters in the whole Bible. Yet, if the principles that are found in these three chapters were put into practice by even a small portion of believers, we would turn the world upside down. We would have an impact for Jesus Christ in our world that we are not having now if even some of us would covenant in our hearts and practice in our lives the principles that we are going to be seeing in these next three chapters. It underscores the idea that we have been seeing all the way through in the book of I Corinthians, that the lordship of Christ in the local church is really a matter of the lordship of Christ in the lives of individual Christians.

It becomes true that a church is not a great church just because it has a great pastor or a great program or a great congregation. A church is a great church, a church is a strong church, based on the spiritual condition of the people who are in that church. We cannot make a greater impact on Abilene, Texas, or any other city just by somehow getting a bigger congregation together. We cannot make a greater impact on Abilene, Texas, by building one of the bigger buildings in the city or owning more buses or having more innovative programs or having more things going on during the week. All of those things may have their place, but real strength in the Lord, real spiritual power, comes from the Spirit of God working in your heart and in my heart and our yielding to that Spirit of God in our lives day by day, wherever we may be.

That is the message of I Corinthians all through the book, but these chapters really begin to focus in on that more strongly even than the previous chapters. Chapter 12 deals with the matter of spiritual gifts, the fact that God has given to every believer an ability to serve the Lord. The next two chapters in this section will deal with the use of those gifts in various ways. We have divided chapter 12 into four parts: the importance of spiritual gifts, in verses 1-3; the impartiality in the giving of spiritual gifts, in verses 4-11; an illustration of spiritual gifts, in verses 12-26; and the individuality of spiritual gifts in verses 27-31.

Ignorance Concerning Spiritual Gifts

Today we want to begin looking at the chapter by thinking about the importance of spiritual gifts, in verses 1-3. In verse 1, the Apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, points out an existence of ignorance:

I Corinthians 12

1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

The Greek wording of this verse is written in such a way that it could be–it probably should be–translated, “I do not want you to keep on being ignorant.” Obviously from that statement, the Corinthians were ignorant of spiritual gifts. A great many Christians in our generation are ignorant of spiritual gifts. Someone may say, “I have heard about spiritual gifts over and over again.” It is not so much the matter of the ignorance of the existence of spiritual gifts as a matter of the ignorance of what God intends through the use of those gifts. It may be that there is someone who really doesn't even know about the matter of spiritual gifts in the first place, but most of us know something about spiritual gifts. What God wants is an understanding in our hearts of how those gifts are supposed to function, what He intends through having given us those spiritual gifts.

There is a phrase at the end of verse 1 that indicates how important this doctrine is. Notice:

I Corinthians 12

1…I would not have you ignorant.

The importance of that phrase can be more readily seen when we realize that there are several places in the Scriptures where Paul uses this same formula. You might look at these references when you have the time. In I Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 13, Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant concerning the fact that we do not sorrow as others who have no hope.” God says, “I don't want you to be ignorant of the fact that Jesus Christ is coming back, and we will meet Him in the air, and we will be forever with the Lord.” That is a very important doctrine, isn't it? We love to talk about it, and the doctrine is a great comfort to us when some loved one dies.

II Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 11, says that we must not be ignorant of Satan's devices, the fact that Satan goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Let me ask you: Do you really believe that? Do you really think that Satan is out to get us? You had better believe it because God says that, and God says that it is extremely important that we not be ignorant of the ways that Satan goes about that.

In Romans, chapter 10, verse 3, he says that we should not be ignorant of the difference between God's righteousness and man's righteousness and how God uses His righteousness and how He imputes His righteousness into us. Those are very important topics. Those are things that have to do with the very essence of our Christian faith.

It is very significant, I think, that Paul uses that same wording, that same formula, to refer to the matter of spiritual gifts because as I look around Christianity, I doubt that we put the matter of spiritual gifts on the same plane with Satan's devices and with the Rapture of the Church and the return of Christ and with God's righteousness, yet God puts it on that same level. It is extremely important that we understand the doctrine of spiritual gifts.

Effects of Ignorance

In verses 2 and 3, Paul speaks of the effects of this ignorance. First he points out that the idolaters, who were all over Corinth, who were all over the Roman world, had certain opinions. Look at verse 2:

I Corinthians 12

2Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

Notice that he says, “…ye were Gentiles…” Some of these people were Gentiles, and some of them were Jews. The term “Gentiles”, as you probably know, is usually used in the New Testament to refer to unbelievers, whether they were Jews or Greeks or whatever they were. He says, “Before you were believers, some of you Corinthians were carried away to these dumb idols.” Hopefully I don't need to point out to you that he is not downplaying the idols; he is just saying that the idols can't talk. Keep that in mind because it is going to become very important in just a moment. In their pre-Christian days as Gentiles, the Corinthians were influenced to worship idols which could not speak. They were dumb idols. Acts, chapter 17, tells us that Athens, one of the leading cultural centers of Paul's generation, was full of idols to the extent that Paul even found an idol to the unknown god in case they had left one out. They had an idol to every deity they could think of and just in case they left one out, they made one to the unknown god. Paul used that in Acts, chapter 17, as a pretext for a great sermon about Jesus Christ. So the Roman world of the first century was given over to idol worship. Paul reminds them of that.

Because those were dumb idols, because they could not speak for themselves, everyone could say whatever they wanted to about the idols. Anyone who was worshiping a particular idol could make any claim they wanted to for that idol. The idol couldn't speak for himself, so there was no way to rebut that. Parenthetically, let me ask, you do realize, don't you, how valuable the Word of God is from that standpoint? People come along all the time and say, “You know, I believe it is God's will for me to do this.” I just counseled with a woman who said, “I believe it is God's will for me to do this particular thing,” and yet the Scripture says exactly the opposite in plain writing. What a blessing it is that people who make some claim about Jesus Christ can be refuted if it is necessary because God has spoken! Idols don't speak, but God has spoken. So Paul says, “You were carried away to these dumb idols.” The fact that they were dumb is very significant in terms of the argument that Paul is going to develop in this passage. They could not speak for themselves, so there was no way to refute the claims that were made about them.

A Supernatural Understanding

The impetus of that comes out in verse 3:

I Corinthians 12

3Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Paul wants the Corinthians and us to understand that this is no minor matter. Christianity and the claims that are made about Christianity are not in the same league with other religions with their give and take and with their various claims and with no way to prove or to rebut those claims. Christianity is in a class by itself.

In chapter 2, verses 14-16, one of the things that Paul established very clearly is that Christians have a supernatural understanding. He said, “We have the mind of Christ.” When we talked about that chapter, we pointed out that that was a reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit within each of us who have accepted Christ as Savior. Maybe you need to be reminded of that truth again: Because we have the Holy Spirit within us, we have the ability to understand God. We have the ability to understand the Word of God, not just that mental capacity with which any human being can sit down and study the Bible like any other book, but beyond that and in addition to that, we have the Holy Spirit Who can guide us into the truth of God's Word.

If you are just beginning the process of Bible study, the most important thing you can do as you study the Bible is that when you sit down to study, pray, “Lord, show me your truth in this passage. I want to know your truth. Please open it to me.” God the Holy Spirit will answer that prayer and will give you supernatural understanding of the Scripture. Here is another example of the fact that I am not just making that claim for some God who can't speak for himself. I am basing that on what God did reveal in His Word. Christianity is different from all those fakes. God has spoken in Christianity, in His Word.

Testing the Spirits

In I John, chapter 4, verses 1-3, we have a very important test about spiritual things. Again, keep in mind that what we are talking about is all of the various claims that the idolaters would make and how specific Christianity is. Notice:

I John 4

1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Notice he says, “Those who confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are of God. Those who do not confess that are a part of the spirit of Antichrist.” We need to think about this statement also because in the way it is worded in our English translation, it can be misleading. You probably all know that there are people who say, “Oh yes, I believe Jesus Christ lived on the earth.” A more specific translation of the Greek text would be that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh,” not just that Jesus Christ came to the earth, not just that there was a man on the earth by the name of Jesus Christ, but that Jesus is the Christ, come in the flesh.

I have pointed out to you before that Christ was not just Jesus' last name. We speak of Jesus Christ just like we speak of Robert Smith. Really we should say, “Jesus, the Christ,” because “the Christ” is His title. The word christos in the Greek is the fulfillment and means exactly the same thing as the term “Messiah” in the Old Testament. The Christ is the Son of God. So the question is not just that someone believes that Jesus Christ came and lived on the earth, but that the person believes that the man, Jesus, was the Christ, the Son of the living God and all of the other claims about the Christ that are made in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus the Christ

There are a great many important doctrines in terms of fellowship among believers and in terms of accuracy of understanding. Listen very carefully: This is the test of whether a person is a true Christian or not. This is the only essential test. When a person says that he believes in Jesus Christ and when he is telling others to believe in Jesus Christ, does he mean by that that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus is Savior, that Jesus is the Christ whom God had promised beforehand would someday suffer and die on our behalf? It is extremely important that we understand that because in our generation, as much as and maybe more than other generations, there are many, many people who talk about Jesus Christ. There are totally false religions today–they don't usually call themselves religions anymore; they are movements or philosophies–who talk about Jesus Christ. Listen, when you are in conversation with someone who is in a new thought process and who has been told that we need to redirect our thoughts and call on our inner strength and all those kinds of things, ask that person, “Who is this Jesus Christ you are talking about, anyway?”, because it was promised that the Christ would die on the Cross to pay for our sins. The Scripture says that the Christ will rise from the dead. The Christ will come back to take believers to be with Himself. The Christ will sit on His throne of judgment, and before Him every knee shall bow. That is Who the Christ is, regardless of what His human name may be. Don't let someone get by by just talking about Jesus Christ as if that was His first and last name. It is Jesus the Christ.

Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 12. Here is this important matter that the Corinthians were ignorant of, and it is very easy for us to be ignorant of, that the differences in the way that we worship and live as Christians are not because we worship different Gods as the idolaters did because we all worship Jesus the Christ. If we are not worshiping Him, then we cannot claim to be Christians. No matter how cleverly we may talk about it, no matter how fancily worded the pamphlet may be, if you do not believe that Jesus Christ is your Savior from sin and your only hope of eternal life, if you do not believe that Jesus the Christ took your place in God's outpouring of wrath, then you are not a Christian. I want to say that as kindly as I can, but there is not really a very kind way to say that. You are not a Christian if you do not believe that Jesus Christ took your place as He hung on the Cross and that God poured His wrath upon Jesus Christ for your sins and that is all it takes to satisfy God and give you eternal life. That is what Paul was saying to the Corinthians, and that is the message of God to us.

Differences In Spiritual Gifts

As we go back to I Corinthians, chapter 12, let me point out, in verses 4-11, how Paul begins to inform us about these differences that exist among Christians by telling us about the impartiality in the giving of spiritual gifts. The first piece of information that he gives us along that line has to do with the differences that are inherent in those spiritual gifts. We find this in the first part of verses 4, 5, and 6. As I mentioned, these idolaters all had different claims about their various gods, and so it would be easy for a person to put Christianity in the same category. In looking around us, we can see how that could be because we Christians are very different from each other. In verse 4, he tells us one of the reasons for that is that there are differences of gifts. As we are going to see later on in another message, each gift carries its own unique aspect. A person who has the gift of teaching will look at spiritual things a little differently than a person who has the gift of evangelism. A person who has the gift of giving will look at things a little differently than a person who has the gift of mercy. It is not that they disagree about the fundamental issues, but that they are sensitive in different areas, that they are alert to different areas. There are differences among us, yes, because of differences of gifts.

Down in the first part of verse 5, there are differences of ministries. The word “ministries” here is a translation of the Greek word diakonia , which means “service”. Two people might have the same spiritual gift, but exercise it in different ways. For example, the person with the gift of evangelism might exercise that gift as a pastor. Another person with the gift of evangelism might exercise that gift as a school teacher or a truck driver or a lawyer or any number of other professions. There are different gifts and there are different ways to exercise those gifts. A person with the gift of teaching might exercise it as a pastor or a seminary professor or a layman who teaches a Sunday School class.

To make the differences even more pronounced, the first line of verse 6 points out that there are also differences of activities. The word “activities” there in verse 6 is the translation of the Greek word energes , which means “methods”. So again even within those various ministries, there might be different methods. Let's say that two men have the gift of teaching and they both exercise it in the activity of pastoring a church–different gifts, different activities–but within that activity, one of them likes to teach verse by verse and another prefers to do his teaching from a topical standpoint. So there are differences of methods. When we apply that to all the various gifts, the differences don't just multiply, they expand geometrically. When we have at least n ine or ten gifts and each one of those nine or ten has differences of methods and differences of activities and differences of ministries, we have room for all kinds of differences within the Body of Christ among sincere believers who are walking in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. So there are a great many differences. No wonder we are all so different from each other.

The Same Spirit Works In All

The second half of the verses that we have just gone through point out another factor that is very important to keep in mind. In spite of all these differences, there is a very specific denominator. Go back to verse 4. For the different gifts, in the last part of verse 4, it is “the same spirit.” For the different ministries, in verse 5, it is “the same Lord.” For the different activities or methods, in verse 6, there is the “same God who worked all in all.”

Parenthetically, notice the Trinity here. I was recently talking to someone who said, “Where does the Bible say that there is a Trinity?” My answer was, “The word 'Trinity' doesn't even appear in the Bible, but we believe that God is a Trinity because there are only three who are referred to as God.” Here is one of the places where that takes place. The real emphasis of this passage is not just to prove the Trinity, but to emphasize the sovereignty of God in the giving and the use of spiritual gifts. This is re-emphasized in the references to the decision maker in verses 7-11. Notice the scope of spiritual gifts in verse 7:

I Corinthians 12

7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

Sometimes Christians think, “If so and so who disagrees with me just had a spiritual gift, he would be able to understand what I am talking about.” “If you had a spiritual gift like I do, then you would be as godly as I.” The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. Whether you believe it or not, God has given you a spiritual gift as a Christian. These chapters deal with that. The Spirit shows Himself in every believer. We are going to see that that is a part of salvation. It is one of the things that God does for us at the moment of salvation. You do not have to plead and beg God to give you a spiritual gift. God has already given you a spiritual gift. You may not know what it is; you may not be exercising it if you do know what it is, but God has given you a spiritual ability to serve Him in a special way.

Notice the purpose of that–for the profit of all. If you do know what your spiritual gift is, don't get puffed up about that. Just remember that that gift was only given to you so you can serve the rest of us. That is the purpose of spiritual gifts.

Verses 8-10 give us a sample of the spiritual gifts. He lists some gifts there that were present in the Corinthian church. Others are listed in Ephesians, chapter 4, and Romans, chapter 12, and I Corinthians, chapter 14. Finally, notice in verse 11 the synthesis of spiritual gifts:

I Corinthians 12

11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Some of the gifts are more attention-getting than others. For example, the gift of teaching usually involves having to stand up in front of other people and speak publicly. The gift of giving, on the other hand, is specified to be done in secret. So the person who is a teacher usually gets a lot more attention than the person who is a giver. The gift of showing mercy very often involves needs which must be kept confidential, so the person who has the gift of showing mercy very often does not get very much attention. We are going to see that those more quiet gifts are really the more important in God's way of doing things. Some of the gifts are more obvious than others, and we tend to think that those obvious gifts are the only way that people can serve the Lord. That is why it is important for us to study this passage.

The important thing is that every believer has a gift, and every gift is just as important to God and has just as important a purpose as every other gift. It is essential that we remember that. Let me ask you, and just think honestly about this. Do you feel that most other Christians just aren't really what they ought to be, that most other Christians are kind of missing the mark because they don't see things quite the way you do? I know that there are some people who feel that way. Answer this honestly for yourself: Do you feel like you are out of step with everyone else, and you love the Lord, and you want to serve Him, but you just can't really get enthusiastic about the way most people are doing things in Christianity? Let me tell you something, there is room for both of you in God's family. If both of you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, one is just as much saved as the other. This passage speaks to all of those situations. These chapters that we will be looking at in the next few weeks are going to address all of us as Christians. It is not true that other Christians need to come up to your level. If you think that, then God needs to deal with you because that is not true. On the other hand, if you are one who thinks you are just worthless to God and to the Body of Christ, God needs to deal with you too, because that is not true either. Each of us has the ability to serve the Lord. Whether we are doing it or not is another matter. Christians are not all alike, and thank God we are not. Each of us has a place to fill in the Body of Christ, and He has given us the equipment we need to do that.

Conclusion

What are you doing to serve the Lord? Someone may say, “I don't know what my spiritual gift is, so there is no way I can serve the Lord till I find that out.” No, the question is, what are you doing to serve the Lord? One of the ways of finding out what your spiritual gift is is by serving the Lord and seeing what the Lord blesses as you do it. You don't have to know what your spiritual gift is to serve the Lord. I think there are too many Christians sitting around, looking at others serving the Lord and saying, “I wish I could do that, but I don't have the gifts and abilities that that person does.” Just get out there and get busy for the Lord. Respond to pleas for help in your church bulletin. Respond to requests for help in other Christian ministries. There is more to do to serve the Lord than all of us working together can get to. You don't need to sit back and wish there was some way for you to serve the Lord. It may not be a really attractive way; it may not be a really public way; it may not even be what you have in mind. But get busy and serve the Lord, and I promise you God will direct you to hone in on what that spiritual gift is. The real issue right now is, are you serving the Lord? Are you living for His honor and glory just where He has put you in that neighborhood, on that campus, in that office, wherever it is? That is the real issue.


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