For the next few weeks we are in an interesting time after Epiphany and a time before Lent. Curiously, our Epistle readings are contained to a section of first Corinthians for that time, and I thought it might be interesting to focus in on those readings as we move toward the time of Lent.
Long before first Corinthians was a chapter in our Bibles, it was first a letter – in fact the first letter to the Corinthians penned by the Apostle Paul. I appreciate Fred Craddock’s basic description:
“… it was a letter from a missionary to a congregation on the frontier, far from the church’s hearth and home. The church was born in Judaism, nurtured on tradition, scripture, and common faith in God, scaffolded by temple and synagogue until the foundation and walls were well fixed. But out on distant frontiers the background was pagan, and there were no mothers and fathers in the faith to give clarity and stability. There were preachers passing through, to be sure, but that’s just it; they were passing through. The church had experiences for which they had no texts and problems for which they had no precedents. Some concerned members wrote to the missionary who started the church, and their questions were many, touching on marriage, divorce, litigation, support of local shrines, proper foods, leadership of women, order of worship, and the nature of a resurrected body. What a list! And among the questions was this one: What are activities of the Spirit?”
The first letter to the Corinthians was a letter filled with answers to a myriad of questions – and it seems, when you read the letter, that Paul was really enjoying the questions and was writing back with earnest responses that have come through time and remained valuable to people in the present day. According to the book of Acts, Paul founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-7), then spent a fair amount of time moving around, but did spend some extended time in Ephesus, so it is believed that he wrote this letter to the church in Corinth from there.
And just like any church of today, the church in Corinth wasn’t without it’s own issues. The church in Corinth, according to comments made in the book of Acts and within the letter of first Corinthians, the people within the church were developing a real reputation for conflict and division – based on differing personal stances of theology and faith.
Unlike most of the churches today, there were not many resources for developing a common stance on most issues. There was no Bible, there were no creeds, there were very few teachers on how to be church. And if we’re honest, it seems that we all, at some point another, get questions about our faith and beliefs and understandings. It seems quite human.
Today’s selection for our epistle reading works to communicate a central idea from which our actions, gifts, ministries, and activities take root. And I want to spend some time today talking about that – specifically: What does it really mean to be a spiritual person?
4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.
How very Trinitarian!
Well, perhaps not what we would normally see when some immediately think of the ‘Trinity’, by which I mean: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In that specific order.
But, the reversal of the order is note-worthy because it moves us away from the formal understanding of the ‘Trinity,’ and becomes a rather practical one that starts by relating God directly to the individual experience of each person in each of their incredibly diversely created identities. These two verses proclaim that diversity and variety of personhood, of identity, of role in society is not just something we tolerate. It is something we celebrate because that variety and diversity is in the very nature of God and the very point of God’s action in equipping the church: different spiritual gifts, different ministries, different activities: All God’s. It is something we give God thanks for sharing with us, through us.
So, perhaps a real spiritual person celebrates the community of the faithful as a common church, abundant and overflowing, and bursting at the seams with a variety and diversity of persons, identities, and roles.
And perhaps, a real spiritual person recognizes how very rich we truly are that we lack nothing that God provides. We already possess every gift that the Spirit has in store for us – this is, in fact, a better understanding of the translation of the Greek. Not ‘spiritual gifts,’ per say, but ‘gifts that the Spirit offers.’ Any and all gifts that we have are first located in God.
Even more specifically, the most important gift of all – at the very core of each person – is the gift of Jesus Christ. The Gospel, that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, that Jesus was crucified, died, resurrected, and ascended is the glue that binds us all together as one body. And that image is something that we will come back to next week.
The point is, the centrality of the gift of that gospel truth gives each of us freedom to exercise the faith given to us. We are called to live in the world, trusting that the Spirit will guide us within the communities we live and move within.
So, perhaps a real spiritual person is free to live and use the variety of spiritual gifts provided, with a curious sense of the sometimes ambiguous purpose, but ever aware of the responsibility that comes with such a precious gift from God and always living with thanksgiving for what God provides.
What about that variety of gifts? Why can some people do one thing and others another? Does it mean that one person is more spiritual than another?
The particulars, or differences in gifts, is tied to the Spirit – the Spirit divides and the gifts are neither random, nor just some free-for-all in design. They are given with intention for the individual in the community and for the “common good”. The problem here is that the “…‘common good’ is not always transparent; it has to be negotiated in practice, again by the use of the gift of wisdom, in consideration of what it is that ‘builds up the community.’” “Divinely distributed for God’s work through the people God chooses, when and where God needs them to be activated.”
So perhaps a real spiritual person is someone who recognizes and celebrates the benefits of building up community through a diversity of gifts to many individuals within that community. God works through each and every person so that all may become a part of a community and may take part in being community together.
Even though Paul lists a number of gifts that are given by the Spirit, I don’t think that the list is definitive, nor do I think that there is a hierarchy, or pecking order, to the variety of gifts of God.
So perhaps a real spiritual person is someone who finds their gifts by putting themselves out there in paths of service to others that attracts the gifts of God because the best spiritual gifts are the ones that always express the most love and do the most good to most people.
The point being that all the gifts, ALL of them, are from God. And God works all of them in everyone.
So, in fact, every person is a spiritual person.
Now there’s an interesting thought.
So perhaps a real spiritual person stops trying to look for and celebrate their own gifts from God, but instead looks for and celebrates God’s supernatural gifting to everyone.
Which is a pretty interesting question to ask this soon after Christmas. We all have an incredible abundance of supernatural gifts. What are we going to do with them?
Let us Pray:
Holy Spirit, thank you for breathing in us. Guide us to understand the variety of gifts that you bestow in each of us.
Christ, Lord, thank you for having died so that we may live. Thank you for showing us a life lived in ministry to others that we would have the best possible example. Encourage us to follow in your footsteps.
God, giver of life, thank you for creating us each in your image, an image of relationship and community, images of diversity drawn together as your children. Move us all to activity that seeks to share our gifts with the world, expressing love and doing good for the others all around us.
- James Boyce. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11” Preach this Week. Working Preacher.
- Fred B. Craddock. “From Exegesis to Sermon: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6,” Review and Expositor, 1983, pages 417-425.
- Tracy N. Moore. “Experiencing God’s Presents.” Good Question. Christianity Today. Aug2003, Vol. 47 Issue 8, p55.
- Richard Mario Procida, Esq. “Being a Supernaturally Gifted Servant of God (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)” Modern Lectionaries.
- Roy M. Terry IV. “Supernatural Vending Machine: Are Christians More Gifted Than Others?” The Hardest Question.
 Fred B. Craddock. “From Exegesis to Sermon: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6,” Review and Expositor, 1983, page 422.
 Roy M. Terry IV. “Supernatural Vending Machine: Are Christians More Gifted Than Others?” The Hardest Question.
Today’s image is adapted from:
Dove of the Holy Spirit by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
(ca. 1660, stained glass, Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican)
It is borrowed under Creative Commons through wikipedia, and can be found in its original form here.