Today’s sermon or message is the last in our series on the Holy Spirit that began on Pentecost Sunday.
We now enter the Season of Creation and on Sunday 26th our youth will focus on the Creation of God and his universe.
Today, however, we continue to discern how God uses us to advance his kingdom – not just through our human efforts and the skills we develop, but the Spirit given gifts we have received or inherited.
When we talk about Spiritual gifts we can easily get into contentious spaces in the church. ‘Charismata’ – gifts and graces have sometimes split churches instead of building them up. Yet those gifts are present amongst the people of God – in fact in all of us.
What do we read about this?
In Ezekiel 39:29 [600 years before Pentecost] – the prophet says:
‘I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel; declares the Sovereign Lord.’
While in the writing of the later prophet Joel [Joel 2:28-29] we read:
‘And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your songs and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.’
Then finally in the New Testament we read that at the baptism of Jesus, the heavens were ‘rent’ apart and the dove [the Spirit] descended on the head of Jesus – and the Spirit remained before descending on the disciples [Acts 2] and Peter boldly proclaimed this to be the fulfilment of Joel’s prophesy.
Now then, if we believe we all have the Spirit within us and the Spirit of Christ or the Holy Spirit’s nature is to be an enables healer, counsellor – then that becomes our nature also.
Paul in Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and in 2 Timothy, and Peter in 1 Peter and Luke in Acts, all flesh out what these gifts are:
- Strong faith
- The gift of tongues
- Evangelism and
- The discernment of Spirits.
Unlike skills, spiritual gifts are not something we can birth or grow, but they are given in measure beyond our own powers. Paul puts it quite eloquently in 1 Corinthians 3 saying:
‘I planted the [God’s] seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow’.
The purpose of having gifts or graces – as Paul calls them – is to build up the church – God’s temple – as individuals and collectively.
Without God’s divine input, faith and gifts will never grow.
So you might be thinking – what Spiritual gifts do I have and what gifts do I want?
The word Paul uses for the discernment of gifts is the word ‘testing’ in verse 13.
I think that we should employ four words that all start with the letter ‘P’ in the testing of our gifts and graces or the desire for other gifts.
These words are Probity, Prayer, Practice and Persistence.
Another word of Probity is honesty. It’s the ‘testing’ place where we analyse our motives for wanting a certain gift.
o Is it the glamour of the gift that is important to us?
o Is it for my own self-interest that I want it?
o Is it that it lines up with my interests and abilities?
o Or as it should be – is it purely for the service of God and God’s community.
- The second key element to discernment is through the act of prayer – ask the Lord – what is it that You want me to do. The greatest prophets, preachers and teachers recognised that discernment comes through prayer. As we read in Matthew’s gospel:
‘Verily, I say unto you, where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’
John Wesley said, ‘God does nothing but in answer to prayer.’
Dwight L Moody said, ‘Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.’
And in recent times Corrie Ten Boom said, ‘Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be turned into a burden’.
God intercedes – answering and instructing us through our prayers.
- The third ‘P’ stands for that of ‘Practice’ – this is a noun and a verb as in ‘prayer’ and ‘pray’. By trying something, we can see if we have that gift or not – if we don’t have the gift – it’s likely to be a big effort to do it and it won’t be successful. If we do have a gift then we still need to practice it – practice doesn’t make perfect but it often makes something we do more effective. Jesus and his disciples constantly worked in the gifts where opportunities existed or where they could create opportunities.
- Finally, like in a test, we need to persist to find results, rather than give us at the first hurdle.
- In Mark 8:22-25 we read about Jesus healing a blind man in Bethsaida.
- Jesus led the man outside the village – spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him. At first the man’s return to sight was blurry – ‘I see people, they look like trees walking around’.
- So once more Jesus put his hands on the man and ‘his eyes were opened and his sight restored and he saw everything clearly’. Jesus persevered and thank goodness for that man.
Many of you will know the passage that follows Paul’s description of Spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 13 – where he says these gifts are useless unless they produce fruit – such as love.
Gifts can divide and tear down rather than unify and build up – without love.
Paul goes on in today’s second reading to explain the full list of the fruit of the Spirit [the produce or result if you like].
This list reminds us that we are called not only to identify and use the gifts but to cultivate the fruit within ourselves that grows from their correct use.
That list again, from Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In essence, what we ‘do’ with our gifts reflects in the person we ‘become’ through them.
The ‘testing’ therefore is about discerning and growing ourselves and has nothing to do with a competition – where one might claim they are more spiritual, or that their gifts set is better than another’s, or God’s anointing is strong on one than on another.
For, at the end of the Christ’s Spirit cannot be captured or bottled or quantified – But Christ’s Spirit works where it wants and forms new patterns as it wants – we are called to be open and receptive to its leading.