Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Battle Belongs to the Lord


The Battle Belongs to the Lord

A short exposition on Spiritual Warfare in the 21st Century.

Outline


  1. Introduction
    1. We are at war
    2. Everyone is a part of this war.  No exceptions. No Switzerland.
    3. Spiritual warfare.
  2. There is an enemy
    1. Names:
      1. Tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5)
      2. Evil one (Matt. 13:19, 38; 1 john 2:13; 3:12; 5:19)
      3. Adversary (1 Peter 5:8)
      4. The deceiver (Rev. 12:9)
      5. Great dragon (Rev. 12:3)
      6. The serpent (Rev. 20:2)
      7. Father of lies (John 8:44)
      8. Murderer (John 8:44)
      9. Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 19))
      10. The accuser of the brethren  (Rev. 12:10)
      11. The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
      12. An angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)
      13. The devil (Matt. 4:1-11, Rev. 20:2)
      14. and, of course, Satan (Job 1:6; John 13:27)
    2. Satan is real
      1. If he is not, then Jesus is a liar or delusional
      2. The apostles assumed a real devil
    3. Many Christians now claiming Satan, demons and Hell are not real.
    4. Remove satan you might as well remove Christ and the gospel.
    5. Invisible enemies.
    6. Satan is real, demons are real, the war is real.
  3. Tragedies of war
    1. Some things Satan does or inspires others to do
      1. Demon possessions
      2. Abortion: over 1 million  babies murdered this past year in the US, 50,000,000 worldwide.
      3. War
      4. Some Sicknesses and diseases (Not all.  Compare Matt:17:15-18 and 4:24)
      5. Death
    2. This is serious business.  Not playing games.
    3. The worst and most effective weapon the enemy has in his arsenal: Deception
      1. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
    4. So that you don’t fall into despair, let’s talk about what our role is in this war.
  4. Taking a stand
    1. 1 Peter 5:8
    2. lulled to sleep.  Easy to forget.
      1. American peace, bibles, radio, T.V.  Music styles.  What if we only sang hymns?
      2. A.W. Tozer once wrote: "It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God"
      3. This is why scripture exhorts us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
        1. All called to be prayer warriors
      4. This is why we must study (not just read) scripture
        1. Matthew 4:1-11
          1. Satan knows his Scripture even if he doesn’t believe it.
          2. Rightly handle the Word of Truth.
        2. 2 Timothy 2:15
      5. This is why we must obey (Eph. 4:25-32)
        1. Opportunity to the devil.
        2. read the last verse. You do that and you will be successful in this war.  You will be a champion.  You will be a hero.

    1. Now, let’s talk about God’s role in this war
  1. And The Winner Is...!
    1. 1 Samuel 17:23-26.
    2. 17:41-47
    3. The lion and the bear
      1. David knew God would save the day because he knew God.
    4. 2 Kings 6:8-17
      1. Did Elisha actually see?
      2. Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (John 20:29)
  2. Conclusion
    1. Be alert!  Satan is a very real, very powerful, very dangerous enemy.
    2. Be prepared!  Pray, obey and study God’s word.
    3. Believe!  God is in change.  Satan is under his thumb and not only can Satan not do anything without God’s permission, Satan, in God’s eyes, has already lost the war.
    4. Romans 8:31-39.


Introduction


We are at war.  We have been for some time.  A vast and complicated war wh
ere the casualty count has been in the billions.  Every man, woman and child that has ever lived or who will ever live is a part of this war.  There are no exceptions.  You are either on the winning side or the losing side.  You are either on the side of the enemy or you are not.  There is no neutral territory. There is no Switzerland.  There are no sidelines.  If you aren’t on one side then you are, by default, on the other.  Period.

I am talking about spiritual warfare.  A phrase that I am afraid has been so overused that it either holds very little meaning or has been given such meaning from fictionalized accounts that it has lost its edge.   Let me say, that this war is very real and it is vital that Christians understand its ramifications for their own lives and the salvation of their souls.

There is an Enemy

Let me start off by telling you that there is an enemy in this war.  This enemy is “hell bent” on inflicting as much damage on us as possible.  He goes by many names,

Tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5)
Evil one (Matt. 13:19, 38; 1 john 2:13; 3:12; 5:19)
Adversary (1 Peter 5:8)
The deceiver (Rev. 12:9)
Great dragon (Rev. 12:3)
The serpent (Rev. 20:2)
Father of lies (John 8:44)
Murderer (John 8:44)
Sinner (1 John 3:8)
Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 19)
Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
The accuser of the brethren  (Rev. 12:10)
The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
An angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)
The devil (Matt. 4:1-11, Rev. 20:2)
and, of course, Satan (Job 1:6; John 13:27)

It is important that we establish right off that Satan is, in fact, real.

First, Jesus believed in Satan.  If Satan isn’t real then Jesus was delusional at best or worse, a liar (Matt. 4:1-11; Matt. 16:23; Lk. 22:31,32).

Second, the apostles all assumed a real devil, a real enemy of our souls that strives to thwart God’s plans and keep people as far away from Him as possible (Eph. 4:27; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Jn. 2:13; 3:8-10).

I am surprised at how many Christians and Christian leaders are coming out denying what the Bible teaches as fact.  They say that the Satan and hell are faerie tales of a bygone age, invented by well intentioned, or perhaps not so well intentioned, religions leaders in order to scare little children, foolish women and superstitious old men into submission.

Know this, brothers and sisters: if you strip the bible of Satan, his armies and his battle plans as they are presented to us, you not only strip the Word of Truth of any truth value but you give the enemy what any enemy of any war loves: the ability to move about freely and to do whatever he likes without ever being challenged by his victims.

Satan is real.  Demons are real. The war is real.  An no amount of playing “let’s pretend”, indifference, or sticking our fingers in our ears will ever change that.  It will only result in you becoming another casualty of war.

The tragedies of war


So, like any war, there are casualties.  These can be seen in such things as:

Demon possessions (Matt. 8:29,31; 12:45; 17:15; Mk. 5:2-4; 1:24, 26, 34; 5:2-13  Lk. 4:41; 8:26-33). A better word is demonization.

Abortion:  over 1 million  babies murdered this past year in the US, 50,000,000 worldwide.

War

Sicknesses and diseases (Not all.  Compare Matt:17:15-18 and 4:24)

Death

These are all things that Satan has his hands in and, many times, is directly responsible for.  This is serious business.  We aren’t fighting against the imaginary.  We are fighting  against a being that, contrary to what you may have been told, thinks he can actually win.  He doesn’t act like someone who knows his end is near, desperately thrashing about, fighting against the inevitable.  He is fighting to win.

As terrible as these things are Satan has another tactic that is probably his worst and most effective one.  Deception.  

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

I have heard many of you cry out in frustration that no one seems to hear and respond to the message of the Gospel any more.  Maybe a couple here and a couple there, but nothing like what was seen in the past.  Here is, in part, the answer.  Satan, the god of this world, has blinded them.  

However, so that you don’t fall into despair, let’s talk about what our role is in this war.

Taking a Stand


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

The scriptures tell us this for a reason.  As Christians, especially christians living in relative peace, in one of the world’s richest countries, we can become careless.  We take things for granted.  

I am always amazed when I read accounts of persecuted Christians in countries like China or Russia before the end of the cold war.  They would find a page of scripture and pass it around like it were a priceless treasure.  They would memorize chapters and books of the bible at a time in order to recite scripture to one another when bibles were hard to come by.  They would gather together, huddled with their heads almost touching, and whisper a hymn for fear the authorities would hear the singing and arrest them.  

But in free, safe America, where most Christians own several bibles, have access to multiple radio stations broadcasting songs and sermons, we have a tendency to forget to even read the Word, sometimes for days or weeks at a time, never mind memorize it.  We forget to pray except when desperate enough to remember.   

We bicker over music styles and simply hop to another church that satisfies our musical tastes better.  If we announced next week that we were no longer going to have a worship team but instead sing only hymns from our hymnals and only a capella, you would most likely find that a large number of people would leave this church to go to one that did have a contemporary worship.  But fear not, you would also probably find that those people would get replaced by those who hate contemporary music and instruments and are thus leaving their current church for ours.  
 
A.W. Tozer once wrote: "It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God"

It is easy for us to...forget.  And this is just the opportunity Satan is waiting for.  We must stay alert!  

I remember a pastor once gleefully preaching that although it was true that Satan is a roaring lion, nonetheless he is a toothless lion.  Unfortunately this is not true as anyone who has been careless and suffered at the hands of the enemy can attest.  If he were toothless why worry?  But here Peter tells us that he isn’t just a roaring lion.  He is a devouring lion.   

This is why we are exhorted to “pray without ceasing”  (1 Thess. 5:17).  I’ve said this before and I will say it again: the most important activity of every single Christian is prayer.  You have also heard me say that I do not particularly like the phrase “prayer warrior”.  I don’t like it because it sends the message that some people are called to a life of prayer while others are not.  It is true that some pray more than others, but let me stress it to you again: we are ALL called to be prayer warriors; every man, woman and child who claims Christ as their Lord and Savior.  

This is why we must study the Bible.  Notice I did not say merely read but study.  This is the word of the Lord.  I do not have time to go into an apologetic of the Bible being the very words of God.  If you do not know this then the rest of my message will mean nothing to you.  The Holy Spirit confirms to every true believer, in his or her heart, that this book contains the living, life giving words of God.

But knowing this is not enough.  We must go beyond knowing that the bible is the Word of God.  We must know the Word.  We must study it.

Turn to Matthew 4:1-11 and read it with me.

There are two things I wish to point out here.  First, Satan knows the scriptures.  It doesn’t here say he believes them or trusts them.  But he does know them.  

Second, we must be able to rightly handle the word of truth.  In each instance Satan quoted scripture, albeit out of context of its true meaning.  But scripture tells us:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

This is why I said “study” and not merely read the bible.  We need to know it inside and out. We need to pray over every verse and seek God for help.  Help that Jesus promised would be ours for the asking (Jn 14:26; Lk. 11:13).  Jesus rightly handled the word of truth and won that battle.  So can we if we are willing to follow his example.

This is why we are told not to give an “opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:25-32).  We are called to be something.  That is, Christian isn’t just a name, it is a characteristic.  It isn’t just who we are, it is what we do that makes us Christian.  If we act out of character, if we do other than what our Lord has called us to, we will give the enemy a foothold.  We will give him opportunity or, as some translations put it, we will give him a foothold.  

What opportunity?   Opportunity to take us down. To bring damage and disrepair to God’s kingdom.  To strike a blow for the enemy.  When we lie, when we steal, when we let our anger get the better of us, when we let corrupt talk come out of our mouths like dirty and crass jokes, foul language, gossip or whatever else doesn’t build up other people.  

You want to help defeat the enemy?  Read the last verse of this text:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

You do that and you will be successful in this war.  You will be a champion.  You will be a hero.

So pray, and love you neighbor as yourself.  Not very new is it?  I’m tell you old stuff because God is old, and his message is old, and I see no reason to give you anything other than what God has already said.  


Now, let’s talk about God’s role in this war

And The Winner is...!

This is where things get good. We know there is an enemy.  We know he has it in for us.  We know that we have responsibilities as soldiers in this war.  But it doesn’t end there.  It may seem like it is all up to us, but it isn’t. To be honest, we are fighting a war, the outcome of which has already been decided.  

Turn with me to 1 Samuel 17:23-26.  Do you think that David knew something here?  It sounds like he had some inside information.  The fact is, all of the Israelites should have known what David knew.  But instead we read in verses that follow that David’s brothers derided him for his stand.

You are going to find that when you take a stand of faith that people, even friends, family and fellow Christians are going to come against you.  Stepping out in faith can be a scary thing. But it is the ONLY way this battle can be fought.   Let’s read on:

17:41-47

Here’s the inside knowledge that David had:  “...the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s”.  This is the knowledge that was the basis for David’s faith.  Do you want to know something else?  You and I have this same inside knowledge!

But this wasn’t just book knowledge.  If you read earlier in this account you will find that David had his faith tested while tending his sheep.  A lion and a bear attacked his sheep at different times and David successfully killed them and saved his sheep.  David knew God would save the day because he knew God.

Here’s another account I love.  Turn with me to 2 Kings 6:8-17.  You know what is really interesting to me?  We are never told that Elisha could see the chariots.  It doesn’t say either way.  But if I were allowed a bit of conjecture here, I like to think that he couldn’t.  That he only knew that God was there and that God was going to save the day.  It was the servant who needed to see with his eyes because he lacked the faith to see it with his heart.  “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (John 20:29).

Conclusion

Be alert!  Satan is a very real, very powerful, very dangerous enemy.
Be prepared!  Pray, obey and study God’s word.
Believe!  God is in change.  Satan is under his thumb and not only can Satan not do anything without God’s permission, Satan, in God’s eyes, has already lost the war.

Let me close with the scripture passage we read at the beginning of church:  Romans 8:31-39.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Body of Christ part 2


The Body of Christ, Part 2: How to be a  BodyBuilder


[Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31]  !Don’t read yet!


Introduction

Last time we discussed the first part of chapter 12 from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.   We talked about the fact that the church at Corinth was a vital, growing church but that they had a number of problems. One of those problems was the tendency to use the various gifts that God had given them in a manner that hurt other people and did nothing to bring glory to the gift giver creating an environment of discord and pain.  I also said that all gifts, talents and abilities we have, come from God and therefore are all important, and that they must be used for the two-fold purpose of bringing glory to God and building up the body of Christ.

With these things in mind, this time will we continue with our look at the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

 
[Read Text]

One body

Although they were a growing and thriving church with a very important ministry to the people of Corinth, a city with a world renowned sinful life style, the Corinthian church was fractured.   They were exalting people, setting them on a pedestal,  they were claiming to have special giftings from God that, in essence, made them better than everyone else and they were misusing these gifts.  People were getting hurt and out of concern a letter was sent to Paul to which Paul was responding

Paul compares the church to the human body in order to give us a clear mental image of what God intended for his people.

In vs. 13 Paul quickly dispenses with any notion of nationality or race when it comes to the body of Christ.   It is interesting to me that Paul starts out painting the picture of the church with such a broad brush.  Was the church at Corinth in danger of  making distinctions based on race and nationality?  Or maybe the Holy Spirit thought it important to include, not because of the Corinthian church per say, but because of all the fellowships that would come after.  Who knows.  But we do know that God makes no such distinctions.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, a Russian, Korean, American, Chinese, Iraqi, or what have you.If you have been born again than you are a part of One Body.  And conversely, if you have not been born again then you are not a part of that one body. In a day and age (both theirs and ours) where such distinctions are made and considered important, it may be hard to appreciate the import of Paul’s words. But there they are.No distinctions.

Many Parts



Paul goes on to refine this idea by pointing out that this body has many parts.  We aren’t some sort of homogeneous entity.  I said that there are no distinctions but what I mean is that there are no distinctions that would result from us being a part of different bodies. We are a part of one body. Not a Russian body or a Chinese body or an American body, but Christ’s body.

Yet within this body there are many parts.  Parts that are to serve the purpose of promoting the whole.  We are all special and important.  

Here I do need to clarify something. Although I don’t believe that Paul’s goal was to prioritize gifts, especially not in the first half of this passage, he does make a distinction.  Partly this was to combat the Corinthians attempts to give preference to, what Paul was to call, a lesser gift; the gift of tongues.It was also to, once again, emphasize an important theme found in scriptures; considering the needs of others higher than our own.There are two distinctions Paul makes.

1st.  The vital vs. complementary. Some gifts and offices are vital to the church.That is, without them the church cannot exist for very long.These are mentioned in vs. 28:

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.

If we think about it for a few moments we can see why this is so.See Eph. 4:11-16.

Without these offices the church would be cut from its moorings and  be driven by the wind and waves of false teachings. These people are used by God to raise his church into maturity, without which the infant never grows but dies from exposure to the dark and cold night of Satan’s lies and animosity towards the Father. I see these gifts and offices as the heart, liver and pancreas of the body.Organs that the body cannot survive without.

Some gifts are what I would call complementary. That is, they serve to complete and augment the body of Christ.  Paul lists the following: miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Would the body of Christ survive without these?  Yes.  As a matter of fact, various fellowships never see one or more of these gifts their entire existence. But is the body better for them?  Is something lacking when they are absent?  Yes and yes! I look at these gifts as the arms, legs, eyes, kidneys, ears, etc. of the body.  Can you live without an arm or leg?  Yes. In fact, you can even live with no arms and legs.  But your life will be impacted.  You may be able to live without ever running because you have no legs, or never giving a hug because you have no arms, but it isn’t preferred. It isn’t something I would want, and I find it hard to believe anyone in that condition would claim that they don’t care.

2nd.  Me vs.  the Other. Paul consistently puts a premium on gifts and activities that placed others before ourselves. When Paul, in the last verse of this chapter, exhorts his readers to desire the greater gifts he is referring to gifts that could be used to build up the entire church.   

1 Corinthians 13:4 says that [Love] does not seek its own.  And it was with this principle in mind that Paul wrote “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).  And also back in vs. 5 of the same chapter: “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, [why?] for the building up of the church.”    

In this way greater gifts refer to those that do the most good for the most people.  This doesn’t mean Paul was against helping one person.  Praying in tongues benefited only one person, the person doing the speaking, (unless it was interpreted), yet Paul wished everyone spoke in tongues.   But if we are going to see the church grow stronger, bigger and more mature, we are going to have to desire those things that will accomplish this.   We must desire the greater gifts.

The Suffering Church

Paul is giving us a picture of the church (both at a universal as well as local level).  But Paul writes a few things that I believe exemplify the perfect church.   If a church were to look like this I believe it would be unstoppable, the hearts of communities would change, and it would be so attractive to the hurting masses that it would have difficulty knowing where to put all the people that would be breaking down their doors.   Take a look with me at vs. 26:

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it...

To me this says it all.  Now I know that in any congregation there are people who are supremely empathetic.  They just seem to always be in tune with the hurts of others and are there to help.  Like superman, they seem to always arrive at the right place and at the right time.   If this is you, then what I am going to say next doesn’t apply to you.  You can take a nap if you like and I’ll wake you when I’m done.

The church at Corinth had come up with a interesting solution to those who were weak, hurting or otherwise not model Christians.   vs. 21 says:

...the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again, the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”.

In this church were the pariah, the untouchables, the undesirables.  I cannot be sure, but I am guessing Paul’s words were inspired by current events in the church and I am guessing it included the shunning of or otherwise treating these people as second class citizens.

The point of the above verse was to say we all need each other.  Even those who are weak or who are really struggling are essential to the body of Christ.  Now I am not talking about those who are blatantly sinning against God. That is a whole different case that Paul deals with in this same letter.  Here I am talking about those who aren’t the superstars or star athletes of the world.  The ones people have a tendency to ignore or want to ignore.   See 2:26-31.

Someone once said, "The Christian army is unlike any other army in the world; it shoots its own wounded."

As an elder I get to see and hear all sorts of things mere mortals don’t get to.  So let me say with a certain amount of experience, we aren’t so different than the church at Corinth.  We have some of our own issues to work out.  It is with this in mind that I offer a challenge to you, to all of us, today.   When you see someone down, lift them up.   When you see someone crying, cry with them.  When you see someone in pain, hurt with them.  When you see someone slipping away,  throw them a rope.  When you see someone being attacked, defend them.  And by attack I don’t necessarily mean some uber spiritual attack like from Satan.  I also mean being attacked by those in our own congregation.  It was happening in the Corinthian church, and it happens in churches all over the world.  And yes, it happens in our body here.  

If someone comes to you and says, “Do you know what I heard about so and so...”   Be rude and interrupt them and say, “Do you know that as fact?  Have you gone to them?”  If the answer is no then you have my permission to tell them to SHUT UP!  

I had someone once share a story of a Russian battleship.  I am not sure of all the details so this may be completely wrong, but the gist of the story was that a number of men had fallen overboard and were drowning.  To save them members of the crew started jumping overboard.   They were all drowning as a result, but men kept jumping.  Eventually the officers had to hold the crew at gunpoint to keep them from following their shipmates overboard to a watery grave.

I can’t think of a better analogy of what a church should look like.  Risking our lives for each member, even to the point of sacrificing our own lives.  




A Warning


The body is important to God.  God wants us to build it up.   Now it is true that some will just never get really involved. Coming here on Sunday is all they will ever manage.  I totally understand that and sometimes it just can’t be helped. Others will get involved and really try to make a difference.  They won’t get involved to manipulate or control, but to build up and bring glory to God using whatever gifts and talents they have.

Others will try to tear down through division, manipulation, gossip, unjust criticism and such.  To these I have a word of warning: 1 Cor. 3:16-17 says:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

Some  people who use this verse to prove we shouldn’t be smoking or getting tattoos or what have you.  I’m not going to discuss those things here, but I will say that these verse say nothing about our bodies.  Let me read to you from the New Living Translation which says it much clearer:

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

The “temple” here is the church.   It is an ominous warning.  If you wish to help build up the body of Christ, wonderful!  If you don’t and you just want to sit there, that’s alright to.  But if you want to stand in the way of God’s work, look out. God never makes idle threats.



Conclusion


It is very easy for people within the body, either through misinformation, the interference of, perhaps well intentioned, people or any number of other reasons to feel they are not important or unwanted.   That anything they have to offer is not good enough to make much of a difference. Last week I gave you some homework.  I mentioned that there was, in scripture, an account of two people who were used by God in mighty ways and yet they had gifts and talents that were, what we may think, as being mundane.  They weren’t prophets, apostles, preachers, pastors, healers, doctors, business tycoons, movie stars or anything of the sort.   One was a waiter and the other a seamstress.   Do you know who these people were?

The first was Philip who was one of the seven elected by the church to wait on tables and his story can be found in Acts 6:2-6 and also in Acts 8:4-40.

The other was a seamstress named Tabitha and her story can be found in Acts 9:36-43.

In both these cases the Lord moved mightily through and because of them.  I wish I could preach a whole sermon on each of these people, and Lord willing, someday I will, but for now I want you to read these accounts on your own and pray, “Lord, what do you want me to do?  What can I do to bring Glory to you and to build up your body here on earth”.  If you pray that pray, God will answer it.  He has promised, in his Word, to do so, and God never breaks his promises.

The Body of Christ part 1


The Body of Christ, Part 1: Gifts, Talents and Abilities


[Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11]  

Introduction

I’ve been ask to talk about living in the christian fellowship we call church.  This heterogeneous amalgamation of personalities, backgrounds, experiences, talents, dreams.  After praying about it I believe the Lord put it on my heart to take the next two sermons from 1 Corinthians chapter 12.

In this sermon we are going to discuss gifts, talents and abilities.  Next time we are going to talk about and define the “The body of Christ”.   

Our text comes from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church located in the city of Corinth, Greece.  I like these letters to Corinth.  They aren’t full of abstract ideas and high, moral platitudes, but rather the pages are smeared with the grit and grime that can only come from contact with real life.  

The church in Corinth was surrounded by this dirt. Ex-slaves wondering the streets day and night looking for food and money however they might get it, male and female prostitutes plying their trade, a thriving culture of gambling.  All the while a  perverse sort of morality flowed like a black river out of the great temple of Aphrodite with its 1,000 religious prostitutes. The moral depravity of Corinth was world renowned.

And in the middle of all this, like a lovely flower growing in the middle of a busy street, was God’s church.    Not just surviving but thriving.  Oh, they had their problems to be sure, but you have to look at them in the light of both what they were surrounded by as well as what they had come out of.   Please understand, I am not trying to justify their sin.  I am merely asking you to read these letters through the lens of grace.  

What a beautiful and amazing thing that God allowed this church to be such an object lesson for all the other struggling little flowers that would come after. Could you imagine if God had chosen our fellowship for this horror...I mean, honor?  Our churches today are not very different from the Corinthian church are they?   But God chose them, not to air their dirty laundry, this letter serving as some sort of first century tabloid; but to be a beacon of hope.  A constant reminder that God is merciful and will work even with what appears to us mere mortals as the worst of situations.    

The overriding theme of this letter, if I were allowed only one word, is unity. Besides the immorality that the modern mind cannot but help honing in on, there was an atmosphere of bickering, backbiting and competitiveness.  Our text today begins to address an issue that was lending to this atmosphere. God had blessed this church with gifts that the members went on to exploit in order to win popularity contests. And just as happens today, not only did those with certain gifts purport them to be better than other gifts, the rest of the congregations began believing this lie.   Paul, however, writes to tell the congregation that this is all wrong and not God’s way. All gifts are from Him and therefore all are important and needed.

And this is what I want to focus on in this sermon.  Gifts, talents and abilities: what they are, where they come from, what they are for.

Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

What are gifts?

Paul writes about various spiritual gifts here.  He mentions both here and in our text for next week, the following:

Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues, apostles, prophets, teachers, helps, and administrations.

Let me just make two brief remarks on Paul’s lists:

1.  I do not believe he was prioritizing gifts, per se. This would be the exact opposite of Paul’s intent in this passage (something we will explore next). The Corinthian church had already prioritized gifts and the last thing Paul was going to do was simply give them a different order they could use to lord over people.   

2.  I don’t believe this list is exhaustive. Paul’s list was based on the more outgoing and visible gifts, the common ones people were misunderstanding and misusing.

With these two points in mind I wish to apply God’s words through the Apostle in a broader, more general sense to not just include the list given here, but all our gifts, talents and abilities.  

At this point I believe a proper definition of a gift in the biblical sense of the passage under consideration, is in order:

Any ability we have that can be utilized to bring glory to God and results in the edification of the body of Christ through godly encouragement, admonishment, rebuke, correction, and the increase in godliness.

This definition is far from complete and only a first attempt on my part, but I believe it will serve as a good starting point for our purposes.


Origins of our Gifts


Where do our gifts, abilities and talents come from?  Sounds like an easy question to answer, doesn’t it?   Well, it is easy, but it isn’t something we always spend a lot of time talking or even thinking about.   Paul starts out this passage by reminding the people about their past and their present as a way of making a very important point.  

First, he says, “When you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led” (NASB).  But in the next verse he compares their old life with their new life by saying, “Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit”.    

I have run into some really strange teaching when it comes to the second verse.   Some (including myself at one time) came to the wrong conclusion that this verse was actually an acid test for true Christianity.  That is, if you want to know whether someone is a Christian or not get them to confess “Jesus is Lord”.  However, this is not what this verse is saying.  In fact, it really has nothing to do with whether someone is a Christian or not.   Someone who is a Christian can say “Jesus is accursed” and someone that is not a Christian can say “Jesus is Lord”.   

Paul starts out literally saying, “Before God called you, you couldn’t help but chase after idols”.    This idea is weaved throughout Paul’s theology.  The truth that men and women, left to themselves and without continual, active intervention by God, will always do the wrong thing.   Take a look at Romans 3:9-18.  Additionally Isaiah 64:6 tells us that, “...[a]ll our righteousness have become like filthy rags”.    

Paul then elaborates on this idea in verse 3.  What he is saying is that if you say anything that is good and truthful about God it is because God has done this.  And if God is willing for you to speak truth about Him, you cannot, at the same time, speak lies. Perhaps Paul had in mind the prophet Balaam when he wrote this?  When the Israelites, during their wanderings, passed through the land of Moab, the king, out of fear, hired the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites so that the king could then destroy them in battle.  Listen to how Deuteronomy 23:3-5 summarizes it:

No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. “Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you...”

What happened?  Balaam was paid by the king to curse the Israelites but God wouldn’t let him.  Instead he put into his mouth a blessing, and while a blessing was in his mouth, no curse could be found there.  

The point Paul was trying to make reinforces a truth that, for Paul, was vital to the growth and survival of the church:  The truth of the sovereignty of God.  He is large and in charge!  So that when it comes to our gifts, abilities and talents, they come from God.    

This is not to say that these same gifts cannot be used for ungoldly and selfish purposes.  In fact, that was a big part of the Corinthians's’ problem:  God had given them these wonderful gifts and they were using them for their own glory instead of His.

Now, you may be thinking, “But I don’t speak in tongues, or prophesy and I’m terrible in front of people.  What can I do?”  You have to keep in mind that ALL of our gifts, talents and abilities come from God.  As I mentioned at the start, these gifts mentioned in our text are only a sampling of the gifts God gives.  Turn with me to Exodus 35:30-35; 36:1.   Here we read about two men: Bezalel and Oholiab who were artisans.   Don’t miss the point here though.  To us it doesn’t seem strange that these men had what we would consider some fairly nifty and unique skills.  But think about where they were and what sort of culture they were a part of.  They were now part of a nomadic lifestyle. Skills that were in high demand would be hunting, gathering of food and fighting.  Not the skills these men had.

Imagine that the Israelites are confronted by an enemy.  All the warriors are grabbing their weapons and battle gear and Oholiab stands up and says, “I can embroiderer!”   Or Bezalel builds a beautiful stone edifice for parking the oxen in at the end of the day.  Fat good that would do them when the packed up the tents and moved the following week.   You see, for the situation they were in their gifts, talents and abilities didn’t look all that important.  But all of a sudden God spoke and the situation changed.  Their skills were very important. God was going to use them to build him a tabernacle that would be the center of Israel’s worship for years to come, in which would dwell God’s presence.   

I also would like to point out that, in this case, I don’t believe that either of these men woke up one morning and said, “Hey, I know how to build a tabernacle.” It wasn’t like the matrix.  [Talk about Neo and getting plugged in the first time.  “I know Kung-Fu”.]   These men were trained in these skills and clearly had innate talent to boot, something the Egyptians probably identified and leveraged.   But God tells us that in no uncertain terms, these skills they have are from Him and Him alone.

When Zerubbabel was anointed by God to rebuild the temple after the Israelites exile to Babylon, it didn’t look to some like it would ever happen.  But God prophesied through the prophet/priest Zechariah in chapter four of the book that bears his name:

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord.”   and “Who despises the day of small things?”

What you have, what you can do, the gifts, the talents, the abilities, the education, the training, the knowledge: it all comes from God and is for his glory alone and for the building up of the body of Christ.


Purpose of our Gifts


We’ve seen so far that, according to our text, any ability that we have, whether it is something we’ve learned to do over years such as a special training or education, or something immediately given us directly, such as speaking in tongues, a prophetic ministry or healing, are all gifts and all come from God.  He is sovereign and we would not be able to do anything good for God or his kingdom if God had not given us the gifts, abilities and talents we have.

So what is the point of these gifts?   I’ve already mentioned it, but verse 7 says it best:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”.  

Our gifts all come from God.  Not one gift is more important than another. And they are to all be used for the common good.   

Turn to Philipians 2:3-7. Who was more gifted than Jesus Christ?  Does anyone want to argue against the truth that Jesus was the most gifted man to ever walk the face of this planet?   Yet he used everything he had for the glory of God and the benefit of his fellow humanity.  Verse four says:

...do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”   The word “merely” isn’t in the original text but implied by the word “also”.   But It is interesting to read that verse without the word merely in it.  “...do not look out for your own personal needs”.   Now clearly we need to take care of ourselves, but don’t  miss the fact that the emphasis in this verse is on the “others” rather than the “your own”.

Our gifts, which come only from God, should be used to build up God’s temple just like with Bezalel and Oholiab.



Conclusion

Let me make some concluding remarks.  Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to promote unity.  But a sub-purpose found in this chapter was to teach us the proper use of our gifts in the body of Christ.   If you haven’t picked up on it yet let me spell it out plainly:  Everyone in this church has something to offer God and his people.  In this day of recession, job loss and job insecurity let me say it loud and clear:  There is no unemployment in the kingdom of God!   Everyone has a place, everyone has something they can do.   

Maybe it is teaching, maybe cooking for shut-ins, maybe it is the nursery or the boys brigade.  Maybe it is leading a bible study or having people over to your house for fellowship and a meal.  It might be prophecy or wisdom or special knowledge, music, writing or art.  This list is, for all practical reasons, infinite.  

True, not every one is qualified for what they “think” they are qualified for.  But that is what the body is here for. This is why we need to be in fellowship when it comes to the gifts God has given us.

1st.  To have someone to spend our gifts on.   Yes, we are to use our gifts for all people, not just the church, but Scripture actually puts a premium on building up the body of Christ.  This is hard to do if you are not regularly in contact with the body.

2nd.  To help us identify and develop those gifts.   I’m not a huge fan of personality profiles.  Yes, they can be helpful and I am not against their use, but I don’t believe there is any good substitute for getting to know people and getting to be known by people.   When you are around people regularly and building meaningful relationships people begin to let you know what your gifts are, even if you don’t.   

Next time we are going to, Lord willing, talk about the body of Christ and what it means to be a part of this body. I am going to also tell you about two amazing people who changed lives and were shakers and movers in the Kingdom of God.  One was a waiter and the other a seamstress.  Let’s pray.