Summary: The body is made up of many members, all of which are vital if the body is to function correctly. But test the gifts to see whether they exalt Jesus as Lord. Second, check whether their exercise is building up the body of Christ. And thirdly make sure you
I was listening to Di talking to our son Paul about his holiday around Europe the other day trying to piece together the conversation from what I could hear Di saying, but of course without being able to hear what he had to say. I’m sure you’ve done that from time to time, these days probably in the train or at a restaurant while the person next to you talked on their mobile! Sometimes it’s easy to work out what’s being said and other times it’s more difficult. Well, today we come to one of those moments, in this letter to the Corinthians. We can work out that this section is a response to a question the Corinthians have asked about Spiritual gifts, but then we need to think further about the details of their question.
Clearly they have a question about certain expressions of supernatural gifts. It sounds like there were people in the church who were claiming to exercise some sort of gift in the power of the Spirit, but the result of their ministry has actually been to undermine the gospel. Perhaps the Corinthians have asked "How can we tell when we see supernatural gifts being exercised by people, whether they really are gifts of the Holy Spirit or whether people are just making out that’s what they are to persuade others? Worse still, could they even be the works of demons?" So Paul begins by pointing them to 2 tests that will help them work out whether these so-called gifts are Spirit inspired or are the work of demons.
1 What do they say about Jesus?
The first test is, what do they say about Jesus? Do they exalt him or do they speak against him. Do they proclaim him as Lord, or do they say he’s cursed (v3)? Cursed because he died on a cross. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it, that if it’s the Holy Spirit, that is, Jesus’ own Spirit that he promised to send to guide us, then he’ll be exalting Jesus, not denying his Lordship.
In fact this is the same test that John gave, in his first letter, to help the early Christians work out whether someone claiming to come as a prophet of God, was genuine or not. Listen to what 1 John 4:1-3 says: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God." ( NRSV) It’s a simple test that can probably be applied whenever we see some apparent manifestation of the Spirit, whether it’s speaking in tongues, healing, the Toronto blessing, words of prophecy, whatever it is. Is it leading others to worship Jesus Christ as Lord, that is, as God, or is it deflecting our attention from him?
2 Do they build up the Body of Christ?
The second test he gives has to do with the way these gifts are used within the Church. He asks, "are these so-called gifts of the Spirit being used to build up the body of Christ, being used for the common good?" (v7) Remember last week we saw how Paul moves from Christ’s body and blood shared symbolically in the communion service, to the idea of the body of Christ represented by his followers gathered together around the common meal. So, here, he says the whole purpose of the gifts that God gives is so that his body, the Church can be built up.
Now why are these the 2 primary tests for genuine spiritual gifts? Look at v4. First, consider their source. There are all sorts of ways that God gifts us. We’ll see that over the next few weeks as we look more closely at the sorts of gifts that God has given each of us. But while there are varieties of gifts, they all have one single source. There is only one Spirit who gives them all.
Then look at their object. While there are many areas of service, there’s only one Lord for whom that service is carried out. Finally think about the motivating power behind them. Although there are many ways that we’re activated for service, that activation has only one origin, the one God who initiates and empowers all of them. And why does he activate us for service? Why does the Spirit give us particular gifts? What is it that Jesus our Lord desires from our service? It’s that the Church will be built up. That together we’ll be blessed.
But while there’s a single, common, source, object and motivating power behind these gifts, notice that there’s also an incredible variety among them. James tells us that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and here Paul outlines for us just some of the rich variety of gifts that God gives his church. I guess he’s thinking here of the sorts of gifts the Corinthians are blessed with. Theirs was a good example to use because it was a very gifted place. Still, notice that this is just a selective list. If you read through the New Testament there are a whole range of gifts that aren’t mentioned in this chapter. This list is purely representational of all the other gifts that God gives.