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Forming (in) Community: Practicing Servant Gifts (2)

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes, click on this link

Recap on Servant Gifts (1): I made three basic points regarding the practice of servant gifts to form – and be formed in – Jesus’ community: 1) The local church is Christ’s Body, that operates organically by spiritual gifts (charisma, “enabling graces”) given through each member. 2) The right motivation (heart) and context (attitude) for the operation of the gifts is servanthood. The gifts are service (“ministry”) in Jesus’ name to one another; thus we speak of servant gifts. 3) The model of servanthood is Jesus, the Servant of YHWH who, in his service, suffers our sin and brokenness in love, to cleanse, enfold and heal us into his life and community (as he dramatically enacted in John 13).

Peter summarises this well: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4:10). God’s graces fall into two categories: supernatural gifts (by direct Spirit inspiration) and natural talents (by birth and training). Both are spiritual gifts because they are all God-given. The challenge is: are we faithful stewards of God’s multiple enabling graces, that come through each other in all their rich diverse forms, to heal and grow us to maturity in Christ?

Paul on Servant Gifts in the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:1-31)

Paul gives specific teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12 (“manifestation gifts”, written in 54 AD), Rom 12:1-8 (“motivational gifts”, in 57 AD), and Eph 4:7-12 (“ministry-gifts”, in 60 AD). I examine each of these passages in that order to reflect Paul’s developing thinking.

The context of 1 Cor 12 is Paul’s teaching on public worship services – when the church gathers together (see 11:33, 14:26) – from chapter 10 to 14. It’s essentially about the local Body of Christ functioning organically in relational harmony through spiritual gifts.

v.1. Accurate Knowledge: We must not be ignorant about spiritual gifts and supernatural phenomena – we need clear instruction and proper understanding. Here it is…

vv.2-3. Principle of Discernment: The source inspiration of whatever spiritual/supernatural gift that’s operating, is discerned by its intent and content, not by its outward phenomena or dramatic manifestations. If what is happening glorifies Christ, draws people to him, acknowledges he is God’s incarnate Son (1 Jn 4:1-3), then it’s from the Holy Spirit. But if it curses Christ, undermines his Lordship, glorifies another, denies his enfleshed deity, then the source (and the happening) is from evil and/or human spirit.

vv.3-6. Trinitarian Operation: A) There are different kinds of gifts, all from the same Holy Spirit, by his enabling grace. B) They lead to a variety of ministries (service), representing THE ministry (servanthood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, all under his governing headship. C) They all have different kinds of “workings” – capacities, scope and effects – determined by the same Father-God in his sovereign activation and outworking (see Jesus’ teaching on the one, two, and five talent people, and their effects, in Matt 25:14-30).

vv.7-11. The Manifestation-Gifts of the Holy Spirit:

  • Paul lists nine enabling-grace “manifestations” (phanerosis): literally the ‘shining forth’ of the Spirit, like a brilliant cut diamond reflecting the diverse colours of the rainbow, the Light of Messiah (see Is 11:1-3). They’re given/manifested via each believer to the church – God’s rough diamond being cut and polished to manifest the full life and glory of Christ – “for the common good”, for healing and growth to maturity. It’s another test of discernment: if what happens doesn’t promote “the common good” it’s not of God.
  • Revelatory Manifestations from the Mind of God:
    A word of wisdom – insight into God’s answer/will for a particular situation.
    A word of knowledge – insight into what’s going on, the facts of a matter.
    A word of discerning of spirits – insight into the source/what’s motivating a particular experience or happening, whether God, evil and/or human.
  • Power Manifestations from the Hand of God:
    A work of faith – a gift-impartation of faith to believe God for the impossible.
    A work of healings – various gift-impartations of healing for all kinds of diseases.
    A work of miracles – gift of supernatural power to perform miracles that overcome natural impossibilities.
  • Inspirational Manifestations from the Mouth of God:
    An utterance of prophecy – forth-telling, and fore-telling, God’s will and purpose for a person, church, situation, or nation – to strengthen, encourage and comfort (14:3).
    An utterance of diverse tongues – speaking in other (unlearned) languages by the Spirit, whether a prayer/praise to God or a ‘message’ to people.
    An utterance of interpretation of tongues – interpreting the unknown language in your known language so that you/others may benefit from the meaning of the tongues.
  • The Determination of the Spirit: These are all given/manifested as and when the Spirit determines and distributes (v.11) – ‘The Dancing Hand of God’. Thus sensitivity and receptivity to the Holy Spirit is key, which is our fourth priority & practice (the ministry or administration of the Spirit) of our highest value: to follow Jesus intimately.

Then Paul (vv.12-26) uses the metaphor or image of the body to teach how the gifts operate organically in and through relational harmony – which I will address in another teaching. Paul concludes the chapter with…

vv.27-30. More Interdependent Gifts: he mentions a few more gifts in the functioning of the Body of Christ. This shows that he (in 54 AD) was aware of, and worked with, a broader list of gifts and ministries; i.e. he did not have a fixed and final list in mind.
And please note the gifts of “helps” (forms of practical assistance) and “administrations” (organisational guidance and co-ordination). We certainly need these gifts!

For Personal Meditation and Home Group discussion and prayer 

Read 1 Cor 12 and ask: What gifts has God-given through you to the church, to individuals and the Body? How can you encourage each other to exercise your gifts in love? How can you build up our church, Following Jesus, by volunteering to serve in a ministry? Then do ‘ministry time’ where you wait on God and exercise the gifts of the Spirit to one another.

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