Monday, May 16, 2016

Gifts of the Spirit

1st Corinthians 12: Verses 4–7: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Galatians 5:22-23: By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Galatians 5:19-21: Now the works of the flesh are obvious:…impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

 Scripture is NRSV

Paul is big on the idea of the Spirit. The Spirit is clearly an important theological idea for Paul. References to the Spirit fill Paul’s letters as he coaches his far flung flock. Three are quoted here. Paul was having trouble with both Corinth First UMC and Galatians Community UMC. Things had fallen apart after he had left.
Things are not falling apart at Hilltop UMC, let me assure you. We are doing well.  We can do better. 
I personally like to think of the two Galatians readings in terms of car dashboard lights. When we are in proper relationship with God, our fellow co-laborers in the church and ourselves, our dashboard lights are green. Love, joy, peace and other good things are displayed consistent with what Paul enumerates in Galatians 5: 22-23. The machine should work well when the lights are all green. However, we need to check our spiritual engines when the dashboard lights are red with strife, anger, factions, envy and the like. In the car dashboard world, green is normally good, red is normally a problem. Fruits of the Spirit are good; Works of the Flesh are not. Galatians 5 helps us understand and measure how we are doing with this relationship stuff. The passage is an indicator of relationship.
If Galatians 5 is about how we are doing, 1st Corinthians 12 helps us frame what it is we should be doing.
Paul’s specificity in Galatians is largely absent in the Corinthians. In Galatians Paul gives us the names of lights we can read as green or red. In Corinthians Paul resorts to an illustration of the church as a body and points to body parts as how the body should function. An ear listens but it does not see. His illustration is very good.  I augment the body illustration from Paul in terms of team, and as a baseball fan, I see it in terms of baseball. You need a variety of different skill types to play baseball, and a team made up of Yogi Berra’s, a Hall of Fame catcher and pontificator, might be a good one for providing pithy quotations, but it might have trouble pitching effectively. 

The church, like a team, like the human body, needs different skills, as given to us by the Spirit, to be put to labor on behalf of the Kingdom of God.
What are your God-given gifts? Sometimes we know what they are: I am good at numbers, and I am not particularly good at small engine repair. But I didn’t know I was good at numbers until I got dropped into a position in 1973 that called for me to be a numerical analyst. I struggled for a while but mentors and coaches helped me and turned that struggle into strength. What we now see as a gift was at one time not a gift. It was honed and developed by others, enhanced by my own willingness to be coached to success. I had to be a numbers disciple, a student, for a while. In reality, I am still a numbers disciple, constantly looking at web sites and articles about how to better display data so that it becomes information, but I digress.
I had to trust others to see that gift in me that I didn’t know that I possessed. 

In my learning and growing here, I didn’t become angry or exercise poor self-control. In fact, this endeavor became an object that lead to joy. When it comes to being a numerical analyst, my dashboard lights here were never red, always green.
Here are some thoughts:
  • Gift Assessment Axiom: When you don’t think something is a gift, you might be mistaken. 
  • The Converse to that Axiom: When you think something is a gift, you might be mistaken. 
  • The Corollary to that Axiom: Listen to others about your gifts. Another might see your gifts more clearly than you. 

Look to the dashboard lights and crosscheck them against Galatians 5.  Green is good.  Red is not good.  Listen to your heart.  Listen to others.  Listen for God.  Remember that God sometimes speaks in a small, still, voice, except when small, still isn’t working. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis