Spiritual Disciplines: Service, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Friends,

We have begun our new series of sermons at the church. This month I am preaching on the spiritual discipline of ‘service.’ But as you will see, service is not just about service. Service is rather about developing a servant’s heart. This sermon is drawn from the first 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 12, but the latter half of the chapter is not neglected and, in fact, is most vital to our understanding of the former half. Any feedback is appreciated.–jerry

February 3, 2008

Spiritual Disciplines: Service 1.1

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Many Types of Gifts; Many Types of Service

Introduction

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

    Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

    The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

    Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

    The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

    Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

____________________

Over the next four weeks we will be talking about the Spiritual Discipline of Service. On the other hand, we will not be talking about the discipline of service.

You see, service can be an end in itself. Too much activity that goes on in the church, and outside the church, is done merely for the sake of doing it. Somehow we have developed this idea among humanity that we work just to work, that we serve just to serve, that we accomplish simply to accomplish. We are interested in creating ways for people to serve instead of developing people who are willing to serve. In other words, I’m not so much interested in these sermons in telling you that you should help someone across the street or why you cut someone’s grass or work at the food pantry or that you should sharpen pencils for Sunday morning worship.

Among the people of the world, there are scores of different jobs that we can do on any given day, at any given moment. What I am interested in doing is not delineating the jobs that need done or the jobs you can do, but rather I am interested in helping you develop the disposition of a servant. What matters is not service per se, but the Christlike attitude that demonstrates we are servants. Mark Buchanan wrote this in his book Your God is Too Safe concerning this very thought:

Our true aim should not be the holy habit of service, but the Christlike attitude of servanthood. Anyone can do acts of service. We can give blankets to homeless people, food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, and all of that might deepen rather than break our delusional messiah complex. It might be done only to exalt self, to become something, to be a star. But it’s another thing to make yourself nothing, to become humble, to be a servant. That’s the only messianic complex the Bible invites us into.

In borderland if we have any religious impulse at all, it’s the impulse to be great for its own sake. So we want to be either heroes or martyrs. Our acts of service tend to rise from the yearning to be one or the other. We want to be either carried on the crowd’s shoulders or trampled beneath the mob’s feet. Put upon me the laurel wreath of triumph or put upon me the thorny crown of suffering; emblazon my name on the marquee or set me ablaze at the stake; hail me victor or hail me with stones; shower me with accolades or bludgeon me with curses; celebrate me or crucify me. Make me a hero or make me a martyr. That’s the delusional messiah complex.

God’s messiah complex looks very different. God invites us, Christlike, to become servants. That means we’ll do many of our acts of service in secret. We’ll do them regardless of whether we’re thanked or applauded. We’ll do them not seeking persecution, but not avoiding it either. We’ll do them when we feel like it and when we don’t. We’ll do them despite their inconvenience. We’ll do them because we’re servants, and servants serve.—211-212

The Scripture says: “Have this attitude in yourselves…

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

__________________

Now, I’d like to focus for a couple of minutes on the selected passage for today which is 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. I have read the entire chapter, but I will focus only on the first half or so and allude the latter half in the context. With that in mind, I’d like to make a few observations about the nature of the service that we are called to, or, better, that nature of the servanthood that we are empowered to live out in these bodies.

First, verses 1-3, the ambition of Christlike Servanthood is always the same: Bring Glory to the Name of Jesus. I had to put some thought into why the apostle begins a section of Scripture, clearly about spiritual gifts, with a discussion about who can and cannot say this or not say that. Those who say “Jesus is Lord” certainly cannot do so apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit and those who say “Jesus is anathema” certainly cannot be in possession of the Holy Spirit. But if Paul is going to be talking about different types of service, workings, gifts why does he begin by discussing what sort of words can and cannot come forth from our lips?

Well, I think it has something to do with the nature of the service we perform, or, better, the quality of the Christlike servanthood we strive for. In other words, if we are indeed people possessed by the Holy Spirit of God, and this is our confession, Jesus is Lord, then our work, our attitude, our service will be in accordance with that confession. Thus, our goal will be the same as the goal of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 16:14: “He will bring glory to me by taking from me what is mine and making it known to you.” The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Christ. For those who confess, “Jesus is Lord,” I think the goal and the attitude is no different. Our objectives are the same: To bring glory to Christ.

David Prior wrote, “This burning desire of the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus is Paul’s overall criterion of genuineness in this matter of spirituality.” The truly spiritual person, doing spiritual work, is measured by his willingness to work for nothing more than the glory of Jesus Christ. There is an intimate link between the confession “Jesus is Lord” and the work the Spirit does through us. If you are indeed possessed by the Holy Spirit, and “Jesus is Lord” is your confession, then how can your ambition in servanthood be any different from the Spirit who possesses you? That is, if we are empowered by the Spirit, and Paul adequately makes his case that we are, then it is the Spirit’s work that we must do.

Second, verses 4-6, the differences in the gifts among us do not inspire competition but cooperation as each of us see how we fit in to the body. Notice here that Paul says there are different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, different kinds of workings but they all come from the same place. Namely, they come from God. There is an undoubted pointing to the Holy Trinity in these verses and what we notice is that the Holy Trinity gives gifts always to the same end. The gifts we receive do not come from different places and they do not come from a myriad of gods who are striving in competition with one another. The gifts we have come from the same God who works in cooperation with himself.

I don’t pretend to understand all the mysteries of the Trinitarian expression of God. All I can say is that God gives the gifts out of his abundance not so that you and I will be in competition with one another, but so that everyone might benefit in some way. This will be the foundation for the second half of this chapter: We need each other! There is no part of the body that is dispensable, the Body is a Unit, it is One, those it is many parts. We were baptized into One Body, by One Spirit. I read this story about Leonard Bernstein:

Leonard Bernstein, the conductor, was once asked, ‘What is the hardest instrument to play?’ Without a twinge of hesitation, he replied, ‘Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists. But to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”—(Your God is Too Safe, 213) Third, verses 7-10, each Christian has been given a manifestation of the Spirit’s power. He says this over and over again: ‘to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given…’, ‘…to one…’, ‘to another…’, ‘to another…’, ‘to another…’, ‘to still another…’. Nothing grieves the Holy Spirit more, I think, than when the Holy Spirit hears someone He has gifted say, “I have nothing to offer.” That is simply nonsense to the Spirit who has gifted all of us in some capacity to do something for the glory of Christ! And I assure you, in keeping with the previous point, this is not a competition.

The preacher doesn’t have a right to say, “Well, I am more important than the secretary,” any more than the Janitor has a right to say “I am more important than the teacher.” Here’s what Paul wrote:

“If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?”

So some are feet, some are hands, some are mouths, some are ears yet each one is distinct, and each one is vital. And all the gifts that have been given have come from the Same Spirit and serves the same Spiritual goal: To glorify Christ. We have each been given spiritual gifts that serve spiritual purposes.

Fourth, verse 11, it is the Spirit himself who decides what gifts are given to whom, and when, and why. HE said, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” I think what this does, practically and theologically, is that it levels the playing field. In other words, he elevates some and humbles others.

Isn’t this what he wrote:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

So we don’t decide who gets to be what and when and how. This is why, when I am asked “Why did you become a preacher?” I respond with the words, “I didn’t choose to become a preacher; preaching chose me.” It is the Spirit who decides. To me this means that those who think their humble service is meaningless and not important are blaspheming. This is why I, when I bemoan that I am not more important in this world, grieve the Holy Spirit who has called me to such a task as this. This is why you, you who serve in lowly places and lowly ways, are some of the most significant and impressive people on the planet. Jim McQuiggan aptly reminds us that we serve a ‘God of the Towel.’ If it is the Spirit who decides what persons receive what gifts, then I assume it is also the Spirit who decides what those gifts have been given for. I don’t think the Spirit chooses one person over another because he thinks one person will be particularly more faithful than another. I think He chooses according the mysteries of his own counsel, and that we who have been so gifted should honor him well by using His gifts in a way that brings as much glory to the Name of Jesus as possible.

Finally, I want to note that all of these gifts are manifestations of God’s grace to us. All spiritual gifts, according to the apostle, even marriage, are charismata, that is, grace gifts. In his mysterious way, God’s grace flows to us even in the gifts that he gives us to use for his own purposes in bringing glory to Jesus.

If these gifts are gifts of grace to us, then it seems fair to conclude that their use should also be manifestations of God’s grace to others. We do not have these gifts simply to bring pleasure or honor or glory to ourselves. We have then in order to demonstrate God’s grace to others and in that way we might bring glory and honor to the Name of Jesus Christ:

14″You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Conclusion

“Lorne Sanny, the founder of Navigators, was once asked how you could tell if you really were a servant. “By how you act,” he said, “when you’re treated like one.” (from Buchanan)

In the coming three weeks, I will show you that Jesus was among us as one who served and that he is the model Paul says we are to imitate, it is His attitude that we are to have in ourselves. The question is: Do you act like a servant? If you act like one you are likely to be treated like one. Even you Scouts among us this morning. Don’t be fooled into thinking that service is an end unto itself. Instead, become servants. Live a life that is defined not by what you do, but by why you do it. In other words, do you serve to be served? Do you serve to serve? Or, do you serve because you are a servant?

I read a passage earlier today from John 13. It tells the story of Jesus who, on the night he was betrayed, got up from the table, stripped down to near nothing, took a bowl of water and a towel and began washing the feet of his disciples. We often read this story and say things like, ‘what a remarkable story,’ or ‘see how humble he was,’ or ‘we should do things like that too.’ I’d like to show you a side of the story that we often overlook.

I never paid much attention before, in all the hurry to see Jesus merely washing feet, to the fact that John says this: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God, and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…” Then he washed feet. He washed feet in the full knowledge of these things: He knew his identity, he knew his destiny, he knew the power that was his, yet what he chose to do with all this knowledge was wash feet. He knew he would be betrayed. This is what makes this story so impressive: It’s not that we know who Jesus was that makes the feet washing so impressive, it’s that Jesus knew who he was that makes what he did so impressive.

In the full knowledge of who he was: Jesus washed feet. And in this way he demonstrated the full extent of his love. And in this way, he brought glory to the Father, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

In what way can we as servants of Christ bring glory to His Name? If you confess Jesus as Lord, are you prepared to keep in step with the Spirit and bring glory to the Name of Jesus by having in yourself the attitude of servanthood?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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