Tenth Sunday after Trinity

 The Giver of the Gifts

August 20, 2006

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

 Seeing our grandchildren this summer has brought back so many wonderful memories of when our children were little.  Little kids do funny things.  You go out and buy a present for a one year old, wrap it up in a pretty package, and give it to your child.  What does he do?  He becomes infatuated with the wrapping and completely ignores what’s inside.  It’s cute when a little child does this.  The present inside wasn’t so important anyway.  But when adults do this with the gifts of God, then it’s not cute or funny.  It’s tragic. 

The Holy Spirit is a gift.  But He’s not an “it” gift.  He’s a “who” gift.  The Holy Spirit is a person.  He is God.  He is the Lord and giver of life.  When the Holy Spirit gives Himself to us we had better not confuse him with the package in which He is wrapped. 

In the early church the gift of the Holy Spirit took on some impressive packaging.  The Holy Spirit made His presence known by mean of amazing and spectacular miracles.  The apostles preached on Pentecost in languages they had never learned.  The Holy Spirit gave them this supernatural ability.  Later on, this gift was passed on to others.  Men and women prophesied.  They were given the ability to speak words that came directly from God.  Immediate revelations of knowledge and understanding were poured out from heaven upon the infant church.  These gifts were never an end in themselves.  They were signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  He is always the Gift underneath the gifts.  When you have the Holy Spirit you are wealthy beyond compare. 

The Corinthian Christians were much like little children.  Instead of celebrating the Giver of the gifts and listening to what He had to say to them they became enamored with the various gifts.  Worse than that, they bickered among themselves about who had the greatest gifts.  The gifts that were given for the purpose of authenticating the word of the Holy Spirit overshadowed that very word.  The unity of the Spirit was despised in favor of carnal competition.  The Corinthian congregation was beset by factions.  They pitted one apostle against another apostle, claiming to follow this one rather than that one despite the fact that all of the apostles taught the same thing.  But they weren’t interested in what the apostles taught.  They were interested in promoting their own spirituality.  They used religion as a means of self-promotion. 

So the apostle wrote to give them some solid instruction.  He says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.”  The word “gifts” here isn’t in the original.  It might be better translated, “Concerning spiritual matters.”  Paul is talking about spiritual things that are important for us to understand.  I don’t want you to be ignorant, he says.  Among the Gentiles who followed various religions of the flesh, ignorance prevailed even among their so-called prophets.  St. Paul writes, “You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.”  The pagans had an entirely different view of prophecy than did the Christians.  They taught that a soothsayer would simply become captive of a spirit that would speak through him.  The soothsayer wouldn’t even know what was going on and after the fact he wouldn’t be able to tell you what happened.  Prophecy was ecstatic speech that left the speaker entirely out of control. 

Contrast this with the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.  The last one mentioned is self-control.  Here we see an essential difference between the Holy Spirit and various false spirits.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t abuse us.  He doesn’t work against our own will.  He doesn’t carry us to where we don’t want to go.  Rather, He makes us willing when we are unwilling.  He changes us by means of bringing to us the pure love of God revealed in Christ.  He teaches us a heavenly doctrine that enlightens our mind.

The religion of idolatry from which the Holy Spirit had delivered the Corinthian Christians was a religion of ignorance.  Idolatry is grounded in ignorance.  St. Paul says that they were carried away to dumb idols.  The word “dumb” here doesn’t mean stupid.  It means mute.  It means unable to speak.  Idols have nothing to day.  As a matter of fact, they say whatever you tell them to say.  That’s what makes idolatry so attractive.  It puts the gods under human authority.  The gods have nothing to say.  They have no divine doctrine to impart.  They have no law that must be obeyed, no promises to which they are bound, no forgiveness to grant, and no life give.  Idolatry was then as it is now.  False gods are made in the image of sinful man.  They have nothing to say except what it given them to say by sinful men.  Idolatry is the worship of the creation instead of the Creator.  When folks worship the creation they usually end up worshipping themselves. 

But the Holy Spirit has something to say.  He is never mute.  He does the wonderful things He does by speaking, by teaching.  His doctrine is not a dull, dry, and finally irrelevant list of propositions that have nothing to do with life.  His doctrine is life.  Listen to what the apostle says: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit speaks of Jesus.  When someone under the influence of the Holy Spirit speaks he speaks of Jesus.  And he calls Him Lord. 

“Jesus is Lord” is the foundation of the Christian creed.  What does it mean?  It means that Jesus is the Lord God.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He is the God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush.  He is God in the same way that the Father is God and in the same way that the Holy Spirit is God.  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  But the Father did not become a man.  The Holy Spirit did not become a man.  The Son became a man.  He was born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate.  He was crucified for us sinners.  He rose again on the third day.  He ascended into heaven where He rules over His church here on earth.  He rules over us by sending to us the Holy Spirit.  He is the Spirit of truth.  He is the Comforter.  He comforts us by telling us the truth about Jesus so that we can call Him Lord. 

To call Jesus Lord is not simply to say words.  Paul isn’t talking here about the Holy Spirit giving us the ability to say words.  He is talking about faith.  To say that Jesus is Lord is not simply to describe Him as we would describe a thing.  To say that Jesus is Lord is to confess our faith in Him.  He is my Lord.  That means that He has rescued me from captivity under a different lord.  It’s not as if we are all free agents with the innate spiritual ability to choose where we will go.  Just the opposite is true.  We are by nature slaves to our own sin.  When we do all that we can do to bring ourselves up to God we not only fail in our efforts, but we drive ourselves farther and farther away from God.  If left to ourselves we could not confess Jesus as Lord.  Oh, we could mouth the words, but that’s all.  Only those who have the Holy Spirit can call Jesus Lord. 

And those who curse Jesus do so because they don’t have the Holy Spirit.  Again, the apostle isn’t talking merely about mouthing words.  Those who curse Jesus are those who deny who He is and what He has done.  They turn Jesus into something or something other than who He truly is.  Who is He?  He is our Lord.

But He’s a Lord like no other.  The word dominate comes from the Latin word for lord.  We talk about lording it over others, and we aren’t referring to kindness and gentleness when we do so.  The word “lord” has certain connotations.  We think of a lord as a powerful and dominating master to whom we must submit.  And, sad to say, even Christians speak of Jesus as Lord in this way.  Have you ever heard it said that it’s not enough that Jesus is your Savior but He must be your Lord as well?  But that’s confused thinking!  It is precisely by being our Savior that He is our Lord.  This is what the Holy Spirit tells us. 

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give us gifts to entertain us or to make us better than others.  He enlightens us with gifts that always point us to Jesus.  This is how we must understand all spiritual gifts.  It is not necessary that we in our day receive the same miraculous abilities that God poured out upon His infant church.  We call them “sign” gifts because they were powerful signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.  They include miraculous healings, speaking in unknown languages, doing various miracles, and so forth.  As a matter of historical record, these miraculous sign gifts disappeared in the early church.  St. John Chrysostom, a famous preacher from the Fourth Century, speaks of these sign gifts as things of the past.  The Holy Spirit gave these gifts to the early church to authenticate the truth of the gospel.  There was no promise that the Holy Spirit would continue to give these gifts throughout the history of the church.  But there is most certainly the promise that the Holy Spirit will continue to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth. 

The Holy Spirit has something specific to say about a specific person, namely Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit has someone specific to say it to, namely you.  He gives Himself to you when He opens your heart and mind to receive His instruction.  His teaching can be terrifying.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t mince words when it comes to the law and our sins.  The divine law isn’t going to change to suit our consciences.  It strikes at our hearts and condemns us all.  Like the Corinthians we promote ourselves, create cliques and factions, and glory in our own pride and conceit.  But also like the Corinthians, we are led by the Spirit to find in Jesus the Lord who delivers us from this sin.  He does so by giving up Himself for us on the cross.  There, as He shed His blood for us, the Holy Spirit receives the power to comfort us.  The Holy Spirit’s proper work, what He glories in doing, what brings joy to God and to the angels in heaven, is persuading sinners that the gospel is true.  He teaches us that heavenly teaching that upends all human wisdom and pretense to holiness.  He shows us Christ’s obedience and tells us that God reckons it to us as righteousness.  He shows us Christ’s suffering and teaches us that He died for us, taking away all of our sin and guilt.  In this way He makes Jesus our Lord and joins us together in true unity and Christian love. 


Rev. Rolf D. Preus

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