Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
In our Epistle reading for this week, from the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12, we are told that the apostle wants Christians, at least those in Corinth, to be informed about spiritual gifts. Our current society’s need to be better informed about the things of God is very obvious. All we need to do is look briefly at public opinion, social media, and even the mainstream print and audio/video media. It doesn’t take long to see that there’s very little unity surrounding even basic Christian doctrines. People will identify themselves as Christians but not think Jesus is God. They will say they are Christians but think there are three separate gods, or that they need to earn their way into heaven by being good enough, by their good outweighing the bad, or some other foolish and unbiblical idea.
Central to a biblical understanding of God is that God is communicative. He is the one who initiated contact with the man in the garden after the fall into sin (Genesis 3). He is the one who has spoken in these last days to his people through Jesus (Hebrews 1). He is the living Word of God (John 1). And, in contrast to the false gods of the folk religions (1 Corinthians 12:2), God is the one who speaks about himself clearly. He is the one who, in God the Son, Jesus, is the true Lord. That’s something we are to recognize through the work of the Holy Spirit, not through our own wisdom or skill.
Does God give just one gift? Not at all. In 1 Corinthians 12:4 we are told that there are different gifts, but they come from the same God. The repetition of the idea in verses five and six may well be included to remind the Christian of a trinitarian view of the world. There’s the same “Spirit” (3rd person of the Trinity), the same “Lord” (2nd person of the Trinity), the same “God” (1st person of the Trinity). The triune God gives gifts according to His good will, and those gifts may be different. However, they are always for good, and good to the many, not just to the inidual recipient. If we think a spiritual gift is there to enrich us to the exclusion of our neighbor, it doesn’t seem so much like spiritual gift. In verse seven we are told that the work of the Spirit is “for the common good” (ESV).
What are the gifts the apostle mentions at this point? Though some have identified thirty or more activities in the New Testament which are specifically called “gifts,” here there are nine gifts listed. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but we can know that if God works out these attributes in the Christian, they are very likely to be seen as a gift from the Holy Spirit. Again, not everyone has all these gifts. They are also not necessarily permanent, like an attribute. But sometimes someone will speak in a special way by divine wisdom or knowledge. Sometimes someone will have supernatural faith, sometimes someone will end up healing another person or doing other miracles. Sometimes people will speak forth God’s truth with power that is unusual. Some people find themselves distinguishing whether spirits are good or evil. Sometimes people will say things in unknown languages or interpret unknown languages. There are various gifts, but they all have one thing in common. If they are gifts from God they will be unusual in their power or accuracy, and they will not be merely a way the Christian often operates. They are specifically given for the good of others by the Holy Spirit.
In the end, we find that the work of God is to build up the people of God, encouraging them, protecting them, guiding them. He is the God who communicates, not like the mute idols. And his gifts bring glory to God, not to man. These are truly gifts of God. May the Lord use us in His gifts whenever he wishes.
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