Summary: The sermon provides an exposition of 1 Corinthians 12 against the background of controversies surrounding how the Spirit works.
Holy Spirit Series 2000
How God Works Among His People
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
How does God work among his people? That’s an important question. How you answer it affects your view of the Christian life. It determines what you think of the church and its importance in your life. It determines your idea of Christian service and Christian maturity. It sets the standard for what you expect to do and be as a follower of Jesus.
Ask a dozen people how God works among his people and you may get a dozen different responses. Some might suggest—he doesn’t. A secular materialist, the most common religious perspective of our day, has little room for a god who gets involved. Others might say—God used to work among his people, but not now. This is similar to what philosophers call deism. This person thinks God the creator is like the watchmaker who made the watch, wound it up, and then set it down to run on its own. God used to be involved, but no longer, they say.
Others insist that God doesn’t really work among his people in general, only in certain groups, like priests or ministers. Others seem to contend that God works in the church building, but nowhere else. Some argue that God is at work, but only through miracles, signs and wonders. If those things aren’t present, then God is not at work. Others point to some special feeling. I know God is at work, they say, when I feel that cold chill run down my spine or I am overwhelmed with tears or giggles or a strange tingling.
How does God work among his people? That question affects your whole definition of faith, religion, and spirituality. That is the issue we will explore today.
This is the second of five messages from 1 Corinthians 12-14. The first overviewed the Book of 1 Corinthians in order to keep our study in context. I want reemphasize how important context is. Any clever teacher or preacher can make the Bible say anything, absolutely anything, if it is presented out of the context in which the Holy Spirit placed it. Beware of teachers and preachers who present strange teachings with great gusto and authority based on their ability to creatively string together isolated verses and words. The Bible was given in a context; it must be understood in that same context.
A second thing to beware of is preachers or teachers who claim some secret, spiritual knowledge. The message of the Bible is available on the same terms to anyone who is willing to read and study it. Don’t let anyone deceive you with lines like “the Holy Spirit told me” or “God revealed to me.” The Lord may indeed reveal himself to us in very personal and special ways, but those revelations will always be consistent with the Written Word, subject to the discernment and judgment of other believers, and available to all.
The message of God is not a secret mystery only available to a few special people. This doesn’t mean understanding the Bible is always easy. There are parts that are just plain difficult to figure out. But the important message of the Bible should be available on the same terms to anyone willing to invest in reading and studying it. If you aren’t willing to read and study it, don’t be surprised that you can’t understand it. Don’t ever swallow the secrets of self-proclaimed authorities just because they say that God has revealed to them what nobody else knows. Don’t let them tell you that if anyone wants to unlock the mysteries of the Bible they must follow them. The Bible is God’s Word for his people, not mysteries revealed only to the elite.
These warnings and concerns are very much related to the issues of 1 Corinthians 12-14 and the larger problems behind 1 Corinthians. Let’s review for a moment. 1 Corinthians was written by Paul the missionary/church planter about 25 years or so after the cross and resurrection and about 3 years after the planting of the first Christian congregation in the southern Greek commercial city of about 80,000 people.
Apparently, these new believers were struggling with a hangover from their pre-Christian life. Paul’s letter addresses two kinds of matters: 1) topics reported to him by the couriers of the letter (chapters 1-6); and 2) questions raised by the Corinthian Christians in their letter to Paul (chapters 7-16). It is not always possible to understand fully what was going on in the congregation, but based on Paul’s responses, one thing is clear: it was a mess. Christians were fighting and quarreling and even suing one another. Basic principles of Christian morality were in doubt. Open, flagrant sexual sin was tolerated within the fellowship of the church, with the attitude—who are we to judge. Marriages were breaking up; families were in disarray. Believers were flirting with non-Christian religious practices.