The Sermon for Sunday, January 16th, the Second Sunday after Epiphany
The Lessons: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
The Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
The Topic: The Diverse Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Stradivari Society of Chicago performs a significant role in the music world. The society entrusts expensive violins into the hands of world-class violin players who could never afford them on their own.
Top-flight violins made by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century masters like Antonio Stradivari produce an incomparably beautiful sound and now sell for millions of dollars each. Their value continues to climb, making such violins highly attractive to investors. “But great violins are not like great works of art,” writes music critic John von Rhein. “They were never meant to be hung on a wall or locked up under glass. Any instrument will lose its tone if it isn’t played regularly; conversely, an instrument gains in value the more it is used.”
And so it is that those who own the world’s greatest violins are looking for first-rate violin players to use them. The Stradivari Society brings them together, making sure that the instruments are preserved and cared for. One further requirement made by investors in such violins: the musician must give the patron at least two command performances a year.
Like the Stradivari Society, God also entrusts exquisite “violins” into the care of others. He gives us spiritual gifts of immense value, which remain his property. He wants them used. He delights to hear beautiful music from our lives. And he wants us to play for him.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11
Our Epistle Lesson today lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit of which St. Paul wishes to inform his readers. The word “gifts” in the opening verse of 1 Corinthians 12 does not appear in the original Greek text but specifies the “spiritual things” in terms of the category of gifts that are listed. When we think of “spiritual gifts,” we must understand that the Holy Spirit gives these gifts. Before their conversion, St. Paul continues, they were carried away to dumb idols, as they were led (1 Corinthians 12:2), implying demonic control of their lives. Now there is a simple test of whether someone is bringing a true word of God. They cannot be led by the Holy Spirit if they are calling Jesus accursed, and no-one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the influence of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). In all the diverse spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit is at work. Some interpreters have seen a kind of categorization of this list of gifts in the use of the terms “gifts,” “administrations,” and “operations” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6), but it is unlikely that the terms imply any classification of the gifts. Rather, these terms refer to all the gifts, the first term meaning “gifts of grace,” or “charisms;” the second meaning “ministries;” the third meaning “operations.” Each spiritual gift, then, must be seen first as a gift of grace given by the Holy Spirit to each believer, secondly, as a ministry, as a means by which the faithful serve one another and others, and thirdly, as the Holy Spirit’s work of power. Verses 4-6 leave us in no doubt who the Holy Spirit is. He is Lord and God who works all things in all believers, whatever their gifts are.
Now verse seven contains a particularly important truth about the purpose of the Holy Spirit in giving these gifts. The King James Version translates this verse: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:7, KJV). Now the Greek prepositional phrase for “to profit withal” can also mean “for the common good,” and the latter translation is preferred by the translators of more modern versions, for example, the New Revised Standard Version translates this verse: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The spiritual gifts benefit not only the recipients, but also all who receive the ministry of those who exercise these gifts. The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts so that others may benefit from our use of them to God’s glory.
Some commentators believe that some of these gifts, such as healings and miracles, ceased after the first century A.D. St. Paul acknowledged that the gifts of prophecies, speaking in tongues and knowledge would fade away, but only when the faithful have perfect knowledge in God’s kingdom, when one day they see God face to face (1 Corinthians 12:13). Since this day has not yet come, we must believe that all these spiritual gifts are still given and operating today, and that God intends this to be so. In meetings such as Vestry meetings and Synods, where would we be, if no-one had or exercised a “word of wisdom” (verse 8)? This gift is also needed in counseling people. The “word of knowledge” (verse 8) is needed by everyone who teaches, preaches, or shares God’s word with others. If you do not know God’s word, how can you teach, preach, or share it? Some interpreters regard the word of knowledge as hidden spiritual knowledge revealed by God about a situation, person or group of people given by God. This should not be the only way in which we see the spiritual gift of knowledge.
The gift of faith (verse 9) is not simply the faith that leads to forgiveness of sins and salvation, but faith that trusts God for important things, or extraordinary faith that is exercised for healings and miracles. But this faith is not limited to the kind of faith that leads to healings and miracles. For example, a missionary working in foreign lands for many years without apparent success, who continues to trust God for a harvest of souls, is exercising this gift of faith.
It is noteworthy that St. Paul does not mention only one gift of healing, but “gifts of healing” (verse 9). Therefore, we have no right to restrict healing only to healing of the soul, as the 2019 Prayer Book does in restricting St. Luke’s ministry by saying that God called him to be “an evangelist and physician of the soul,” whereas, in fact, he was a physician of both the body and the soul. Some have gifts that heal the mind and the soul, and others have gifts of healing sicknesses of the body. We must continue to believe that God still heals people today by whatever means is available, including supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. In addition to this, there is the spiritual gift of the working of miracles (verse 10), which we see supremely exemplified in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ when he raised people from the dead, and in the lives of the apostles, such as St. Peter and St. Paul. Then there is the gift of prophecy, of which we have many examples in the Old Testament prophets, and those prophets of the New Testament. Although the Anglican tradition has tended to see bishops as prophets, we must understand that God can call any believer to this ministry and has done so. We think, for example, of the role of William Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, and the role of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, as a social and industrial reformer of the nineteenth century.
Then to others the Holy Spirit gives the discernment of spirits, which includes not just the discernment of false or true doctrine, but the motivation and demonic activity at work in various people, so that the Church may take warning and not follow bad examples. This is a crucial gift God gives to the Church, and it helps believers distinguish not only bad teaching, but the motivating forces behind it.
Finally, there are the gifts of interpretation of tongues, and tongues. Classical Pentecostalism insisted that only if a person spoke in tongues, did he have the Holy Spirit. This, of course, is exalting the gift of tongues or speaking in angelic or human languages by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to a level of importance it has only in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. In 1 Corinthians 14, St. Paul clearly teaches that the gift of prophecy is more useful and helpful to the church than the gift of tongues, unless the latter is supplemented in a church meeting with the gift of the interpretation of tongues.
Where does all this leave us now? God has given all believers spiritual gifts to use for everyone’s benefit. Each of us has a responsibility to discern and use his gift or gifts to edify the Church. We must also find the contexts and situations in which we can use these gifts most helpfully.
 p. 550, Craig Brian Larson and Leadership Journal: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2002, 2007, 2008.