Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 20, 2019
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Commentary
God’s adopted sons and daughters generally like being related to Christ. Through him, after all, we receive not only the gift of salvation, but also eternal life. On top of that, we don’t have to deal with our brother Christ face to face. So he doesn’t get on our nerves by doing things like hanging around too long or offending us.
God’s adopted children, however, profess that the Holy Spirit graciously gives us not only a relationship with Jesus Christ, but also with other Christians. The Spirit links us not only to Christ our brother, but also our Christian brothers and sisters, the people God has adopted along with us.
You and I can’t always, however, claim that we like being related to our Christian brothers and sisters as much as we like being related to our adoptive brother Christ. They, after all, are with us everywhere and almost always. While those Christian siblings are often a source of blessing and encouragement, they also sometimes annoy or disappoint even the saintliest followers of Jesus.
So while God’s beloved children generally like the privileges that come with being a Christian, we don’t always enjoy its obligations. You and I appreciate the gift of being a Christian. Yet we don’t always enjoy its responsibilities.
The Spirit doesn’t make solitary Christians. There are no “only children” in God’s family. The Spirit makes us one with Christ’s body, the Church and its individual members. As a result, the Spirit makes God’s adopted children, in one sense, responsible to and for each other.
The Holy Spirit gives us Christ and all his blessings, in other words, not just for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the people around us. So we serve the Lord by, among other things, serving each other.
We try to make sure that we care for our physical bodies. Because I have cancer, I take medicine to control it. When our teenaged son broke his wrist, doctors put a cast on it to protect it. If we’re overweight, we do what we can to shed pounds.
In 1 Corinthians 12, however, Paul reminds his readers that God created Jesus’ siblings and followers to extend such care for our physical bodies to Christ’s body, the Church. He challenges us to care as much for other parts of Christ’s body as we do our own bodies.
Yet we’re sinful people whose own welfare naturally obsesses us. So God’s adopted children tend to view showing concern for members of Christ’s body as a burden. What God’s people will gladly do in the new creation we now sometimes view as a command.
So God’s people shouldn’t be especially surprised that God challenges Christians to care for each other. After all, Christ’s body doesn’t just include the people whom we naturally like. It also extends to Christians who sometimes frustrate, anger or hurt us. In fact, God repeatedly challenges God’s children to love and treat all Christians as God treats them.
Of course, Jesus’ followers quickly recognize that we should love people by doing each other no harm. Yet we naturally forget how easily we also fail to do each other good. Perhaps that’s because God’s children generally don’t always consider what we sometimes call “sins of neglect” to be as serious as, for instance, murder or stealing.
However, the Scriptures insist that the sin of what we once called “omission” is fully as serious as what we called sins of “commission.” God takes very seriously our failure to use what our text calls “manifestations of the Spirit … for the common good” (7).
When, for example, Jesus tells his memorable parable of the sheep and the goats he condemns sins of omission. After all, some of those its King scolds ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Matthew 25:37).
“The King will reply,” Jesus answers. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (40 – italics added). In doing so he insists that what Jesus’ followers fail to do for the most vulnerable members of our society we fail to do for Jesus himself. When we, for example, neglect sad or lonely other Christians, we essentially neglect Christ himself.
It seems as if those the King condemns simply forgot to do things they considered minor. Their shock at their condemnations suggests they simply forget that some Christians go to bed hungry or in prison. But Jesus implies that that’s no excuse.
The gifts Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12 refer to the abilities that God has given us for God’s glory and each other’s benefit. So, for instance, he refers to talents for wisdom, healing and even speaking in tongues. The apostle even implies that, for example, the most desperately poor person who is bound to her home can pray for God’s people and work. While that may not seem like much to the rest of the world, we might argue it’s the greatest gift that we can give each other.
Of course, it’s easiest for God’s adopted children to recognize when our adopted Christian siblings aren’t using their gifts and talents for the “common good.” Paul, however, invites Jesus’ followers to always ask ourselves not only what gifts God has given us, but also how we can use them.
We use those talents the Spirit has given us not only for each other’s spiritual welfare, but also for their physical well-being. Jesus, after all, didn’t just feed the hungry crowds the bread of life that is salvation. He also fed them bread that they could eat and from which they could receive nourishment.
Of course, some Christians tend to concentrate on promoting others’ physical health. By doing so, however, we basically treat each other like animals that only need food and drink. Other Christians primarily think about others’ spiritual well-being. Yet by doing so they ignore the fact that God created us as whole persons whose bodies God will raise to somehow reunite with our souls when Jesus returns.
Those who proclaim 1 Corinthians 12 will want to look for ways those who hear us can put it into practice. We’ll explore specific causes our hearers may want to consider supporting in the interest of good “family” relations. Preachers and teachers will encourage each other to look for ways to support those ministries with prayer, finances and time. God, after all, wants those who hear us to experience the deep joy that comes from gladly using our talents and gifts “for the common good.”
It’s important to remind each other and ourselves that God’s children share our spiritual gifts with each other when we show loving concern for each other’s spiritual well-being. We don’t just talk to people about our concerns for their spiritual health. Christians also lovingly and prayerfully speak to those we know who seem to be spiritually wandering or endangering themselves.
God has, after all, given Jesus’ followers the rich spiritual treasures of not only of salvation and eternal life, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. God gives us those wonderful gifts in part so that can, in turn, share them with each other, encouraging and praying for each other.
Yet I’m always struck that sharing the talents God gives us requires the kind of attentiveness we don’t always cultivate in our busy culture. The people who are hurting in our church communities, for instance, don’t, after all, usually publish their misery. They may, in fact, sneak out of church right after services or simply avoid them.
So those who are eager to share their gifts for the common good find ways to connect with people who largely remove themselves from a church setting. We find ways to swallow our annoyances with needy Christians to minister to them in Jesus’ name.
However, there are also spiritual gifts that Jesus’ followers can offer for the salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. We pray for family members and friends who haven’t yet faithfully received God’s grace.
You and I also pray for missionaries who proclaim the gospel on our behalf. What’s more, we find ways to share our faith with those we know who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. The ultimate good people can experience is, after all, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as their Brother, Lord and Savior.
In an article published by the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University entitled, “The Common Good,” (https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/the-common-good) authors note, “Commenting on the many economic and social problems that American society confronts, Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson once wrote: ‘We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.’
“The common good has been an important ethical concept in a society that has encouraged many to ‘look out for Number 1.’ Everywhere, it seems, social commentators are claiming that our most fundamental social problems grow out of a widespread pursuit of individual interests.”
While the authors’ understanding of “the common good” may slightly differ from Paul’s, their points apply to his teachings in 1 Corinthians 12 as well.
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