Many Gifts: Live the LOGO

Today’s post is on I Corinthians 13.

One sign that you are getting old is when movies you saw as new releases can only be watched on Turner Classic Movies! Our church’s confirmation class sometimes watches portions of a movie from the 1980’s called, “The Mission.” [1] images-2The Mission portrays the struggle of the Jesuit Order to bring Christian faith and Christian values to the Indians of South America. Early on, the audience is introduced to two characters: Father Gilbert and Mendoza. Father Gilbert is a courageous and loving priest who conquers natural obstacles and life-threatening situations to win the respect of the natives. Then, he wins their hearts with music, symbolizing the harmony of man and nature to be found in faith. Father Gilbert is a man of peace and at peace with God, nature, and others. His personality exudes Divine Love. In the movie, Father Gilbert is a Christ-figure.

Mendoza is a different sort of person. He is wild, moody, and impetuous. He murders his brother in a jealous rage and ends up in a monastery founded by Father Gilbert. Mendoza is a person of profoundly disordered loves. [2] Driven by guilt and shame (not love) Mendoza is converted while reading First Corinthians 13 and watching divine love in action as reflected in Father Gilbert’s life and ministry. Mendoza is driven by human desire. In other words, Mendoza is one of us. Mendoza is not a natural Christian, he does not naturally love others; he is naturally violent and self-centered.

The Christian life is a journey from self-centeredness to other centeredness from love of self to others, from Eros to Agape. Divine love, the grace of God, is the beginning and the end of our journey of faith. We human beings, like Mendoza, are people of disordered love, prone to love things we ought not love and fail to love things we ought to love.

The Priority of Love.

Our text today is from First Corinthians. I Corinthians 13 is so familiar to contemporary Christians that we have difficulty understanding it. First, the passage is so poetic and lyrical that it is easy listen to the beauty of the words and miss the underlying message. Second, the passage is so frequently read at wedding services and other celebrations of human love that it is easy to miss the actual point being made. The passage is about how self-giving love, that can only come from God, is the goal of the spiritual life and the only way to avoid spiritual gifts creating chaos.

images-1This is the word of God as it comes to us from the Apostle Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Cor. 13:1-13).

Prayer: God of Love, who in love created the world and us, please come and be with us this morning so that we may understand your word, be filled with your spirit, and be changed into your image. We asked this in the name of the one who was the Word made flesh even Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

From Giftedness to Agape.

Over the past several weeks, we have been studying the Gifts of the Spirit using First and Second Corinthians as our primary source. The Corinthian church was a prosperous and gifted church. The problem with the Corinthian church was that the Body of Christ was not healthy because the gifts were neither used in love or producing love. The faith of the Corinthians was producing strife. In some ways, the problems of the Corinthian church were the problems of every church in trouble:

  • The leadership was divided (1:10-2-3:23);
  • There was immorality in the church (5:1-5);
  • Worship services were chaotic (11:1-34);
  • People were using their spiritual gifts in chaotic ways instead of for the good of the whole church (12-14); and
  • People were teaching false or inadequate doctrine (15:1-38).

The Corinthians, very much like modern Americans, had difficulty understanding the deepest truths of Christian faith. Their problem was partially religious. The patron goddess of Corinth was Aphrodite (Venus in the Latin), the goddess of human love. Of course, the worship of Aphrodite was inevitably erotic. Many Corinthian church members had participated in the erotic rituals of Aphrodite worship. As a result, there was a tendency to mistake ecstatic, emotional, mystical experiences, such as speaking in tongues, with life changing faith.

In English, we have one word for love. The Greek language has several words for love. It has the word “Philios” for brotherly or sisterly love. It has the word “Eros” for romantic love. It has the word “Stergo” for affection among family members. Finally, in Greek there was a word “Agape” that was the least used word for love. In classical Greek, the word “Agape” originally meant “to honor, or welcome.” It was most closely-related to the word “Philios,” which may explain the common reference among Christians as being “Brothers” or “Sisters.” Among Christians, the word came to be strictly identified with the love of God shown by Christ on the cross. [3] Agape love is God’s unique, self-giving, sacrificial love.

Although America is different than ancient Corinth, we are also tempted to mistake emotional or other experiences with the goal of the Christian life. Like the Corinthians, we need to remember what kind of love we are talking about when we talk about the love Christians are to embody. We need to remember that to be spiritual is to reflect the love of Christ shown on the cross. The love of God is a gracious, self-giving, sacrificial, steadfast love.

From Faith and Works to Love.

If we are to understand the importance of Agape Love, we must begin with Grace. Grace is the unmerited Agape Love of God freely given by Christ on the Cross to save the world that becomes available to us through faith (Ephesians 2:9). We are saved by grace. Faith is how we receive that grace. All of our spiritual giftedness, all of our spiritual growth, all of our becoming more like Christ, is founded on the gracious, unmerited love of God.

Paul begins his teaching about love by telling us that love is more important than our spiritual gifts (I Cor. 13:1). No matter how dramatic our spiritual gift of speaking may be, if we don’t have love ur words are empty. He reminds us that love is more important than knowledge (v. 2). A person who understands all the mysteries of the Christian faith and can see how to apply them into the distant future is nothing without love. Love is more important than what we are able to accomplish as a result of our faith (v. 3). Paul tells us that if my faith is so huge that I can move mountains or give up my body to be martyred, or give all my positions to the poor, it still isn’t important if I don’t act in love. In other words, those who think faith is a feeling or an ecstatic experience all wrong. Those people  who believe faith is a special kind of knowledge that gives us the special understanding of the future are wrong. Those people who believe faith is something that enables a person to do mighty works are wrong. What matters is whether faith produces love.

As Protestants, we have always emphasized faith. We believe in salvation by faith alone, but that does not mean salvation without grace. In the Reformation, Christians emphasized the role of Christ on the Cross (Christ Alone), Grace (Grace Alone), and Faith (Faith Alone). [4] Everything we believe and becomes begins with Christ as the full revelation of God, who is love. God’s love was before our faith and is more important than our faith. Faith is how we begin the Christian life. It is important. But, faith is finally the way we receive God’s grace and are able to grow in the love of God. In order for us to become the people we are called to be, we have to grow in grace, being filled with the love of God.

The Reality and Power of Diving Love.

Earlier this week, Don Kerns and I were speaking about our passage today. Recently, Don used the passage as part of the wedding ceremony. His meditation began by noting that most of us find the words of this passage beautiful to hear but impossible to live out in our lives!images I noted that, when Kathy and I go to weddings and I hear these words, I seldom feel encouraged. They forced me to consider how far short I fall in the Christian life. First Corinthians 13 can often be like an exotic diet or a very strict exercise scheme that we learn about while reading a magazine. It all sounds very good, but in the end, we don’t have any intention of living on soybeans or exercising ten hours a day. Many times, the diets and exercise regimes that we read about finally strike us as impossible.

Interestingly enough, I do not think an impossible goal was the intention of Paul in writing these words. Paul knew that the kind of love that Christ demonstrated on the cross is impossible on a merely human scale. But, where grace is present, Paul not only believes we can live out the words of First Corinthians 13, he expects us to be able to live out these words.

There is so much in this passage that it’s impossible to completely and fully teach the passage in one lesson. The love of God is not like any human love. It is not jealous, or boastful, or proud (v. 4). It does not seek its own pleasure or its own desires (v. 5). It is not angry when it does not get what it wants (v. 5). It does not scheme to get what it wants (v. 6). It is content with the truth. The love of God transforms the human character as we become more patient, kind, humble, giving, truthful, trusting, hopeful, and patiently enduring (vv. 4-6). When we are transformed by God’s love, we stop being the people we would have become by nature, and we become the people we can only become by God’s grace.

We have a lot of gifted people at Advent and in all the churches in America. We also have a lot of active people. We have great Sunday school teachers. Every one of them is important. Nevertheless, what is most important is whether or not our faith is producing the kind of love inside of us that allowed Christ to go to the cross on behalf of the world.

Live the Logo.

imgresAt the end of The Mission all of the good works of Father Gilbert are destroyed as Spain, Portugal, and the Catholic Church conspire to get something that they want at the expense of the Indians and the little mission Father Gilbert has created. Father Gilbert, however, is faithful to the end. He dies as a man of peace acting in love, refusing to fight. Mendoza ultimately deserts the way of love and goes back to being a soldier. He dies in a final battle. The movie ends with the question of which way, the way of love or the way of violence, is best. What the movie fails to understand is that love is not a means to an end. We cannot love our enemies as a means to victory over them. Love is not a means to any end. Love is the end. Love is the Goal. Love is the victory.

Our Scripture reminds us that all of our human achievements will pass away. In the end, our Bible knowledge and our ability to apply that knowledge to life will be unnecessary, because we will see God face to face (v. 8). Our ability to persevere and endure suffering through hope will pass away, because we will have received our reward in heaven. In the end, faith hope and love are the greatest of Christian virtues but love is supreme, because love will last forever (v. 13).

heartLast week, Kathy and I were able to entertain a friend for most of a week. She loved our church and its programs. One morning I went out to run wearing my Advent T-shirt. My friend saw the T-shirt and asked if she could have one. I happen to know that we had a T-shirt very much like mine in the proper size for a woman.  On the last day she was here, just before she left, we gave her one of those T-shirts. When I gave her a hug and handed her the T-shirt, I said “All you have to do is live the logo.” Well, that was the moment I got the idea for today’s sermon.

In truth, our church is lucky to have our logo, because each time we look at it we look at the central truth of the Christian faith. We remember that God is love, that he died for us, that he saved us in his grace, that he gave us one another, that he wants us to share our spiritual gifts with others, and that he desires for us to become filled with his love until we are like him, sharing that love of God we have already seen and experienced in Jesus Christ.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] The Mission, dir,. Roland Joffe & Robert Bold (Kingsmore Productions, 1886, 125 minutes).

[2] St. Augustine diagnosed the human condition as characterized by disordered loves. We love things that are secondary instead of things that are primary, especially God. For Augustine, the life of faith is a life of re-ordering our loves to mirror the intentions of God. In his work, On Christian Doctrine, Augustine puts it this way: “He is a just and holy person who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love nor fails to love what he ought to love….” (1.27.28).

[3] In passages like John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gives his Only Begotten Son…,” love is now being used to specifically mean the love of Christ on the cross “Agape” was the least used and specifically defined word for love in classical Greek. Christians took this word and gave it a very specific meaning. Christians altered the meaning in ancient classical Greek so that the word specifically refers in Christian thought to the self-giving, sacrificial love shown by Christ on the Cross, an action that revealed the very nature of God to be this Agape love. Paul emphasizes the qualities of agape love as part of redefining this term as a Christian world referring to God’s love.

[4] The Five Sola’s of Reformation faith are: (i) Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone, (ii) Sola Fide (“faith alone, (iii) Sola Gratia (“grace alone”), (iv) Sola Christus (“Christ alone), and (v) ‘Sola Deo Gloria (“God’s glory alone”).

The Gracious Giving of a Gracious Giver


iconLast week we talked about the various spiritual gifts that God gives us. This week, we are talking about the virtue of generosity—and about the way in which generosity flows from an experience of God’s grace. God not only wants us to use our spiritual gifts, God wants us to use our spiritual gifts generously. He wants us to be so filled with his grace and his Holy Spirit that we can’t help but allow that love to overflow into the lives of others. Last Sunday night in our Salt & Light study, we heard two wonderful testimonies about God’s grace. Interestingly, both people indicated a desire to share the grace that they had received because of the impact God’s love has had on their lives.

When we speak of generosity, most of the time we think of money. In this blog, I will mention money, but the focus is on the way the Holy Spirit empowers us to be generous people, inside and out, in all areas of life. As I begin, I want to make a confession: I am not by nature a generous person. Kathy is by nature a generous person (although she does not like to share food with me when I try eating off her plate!). I have friends that are naturally generous. They love to throw parties. They enjoy giving away money. They gladly attend fundraisers. They never hesitate to give to a needy cause. They love to go to soup kitchens and feed people. Perhaps it’s my Scottish blood, but I don’t work that way. I have to work on being generous.

My father-in-law was a naturally generous person. He was in the food business, and it was virtually impossible to be around him for any length of time without receiving and eating a whole bunch of food. He was the kind of person that thinks four people need twelve eggs for breakfast! He loved to feed people! When he retired, he would get up and drive his Buick station wagon to a local bakery and then deliver bread to a local charity. He just loved giving people food to eat. Perhaps it was because he grew up during the depression.

The Excellence of Grace.

36618_all_062_01Today, we are going to spend one blog in the book of Second Corinthians before returning to First Corinthians next week as we finish this series.. [1] I don’t have time to tell you the entire story of First and Second Corinthians; however, the two letters are related. This morning we’re going to be looking at selections from chapters 8 and 9 of Second Corinthians. Here is the background in brief: Near the middle of the First Century, there was a terrible famine in the Holy Land. Paul wanted to take up a collection to relieve the suffering of the church in Jerusalem. His strategy was to get the churches in Greece, and probably in Asia Minor, to give generously for this effort. The Macedonian church, which was poor, made a very generous gift. (Macedonia is a poor region even today.) After the Macedonian church make their gift, Paul worked on other churches in the region. Corinth was a wealthy city. Therefore, he hoped they would give a substantial gift. This portion of Second Corinthians is all about that gift.

Hear the Word of God as it comes to us from the voice of the Apostle Paul:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).

Prayer: Lord God, the giver of every good and perfect gift: please come by the power of your spirit that we may overflow with your grace and be filled with your love. In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Eternal Giver.

night-sky-hugOver the past few weeks, I have tried to begin each blog with a return to the basis of our life in Christ and our Spiritual Gifts. Everything we have is a result of God’s grace. God, in an act of sheer love, created the heavens and the earth. God in his eternal wisdom, created the human race and each one of us. We are each unique, made in the image of God, and able to both appreciate the wonder of God’s creation and to participate with God in showing forth his wisdom and love in creation.

This week, I read Psalm 139 where the psalmist said:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well (Psalm 139:14).

We cannot talk about generosity unless and until we recognize the generosity of our God. God is generous. He created the majesty of a universe that so vast, so beautiful, and so intricate that we can only look at it in wonder. When we look at this earth, so lovely, so filled with beauty, we can only wonder at the God who created it. When we look at the human race, with all of our capacities, we can only wonder that we were given this ability to see the wonder of God and experience the beauty and elegance of his creation (Psalm 8).

We ended last week’s blog with this observation: Not only is the universe beautiful—not only is the earth beautiful—you are beautiful. Each person in this world, each human being is fearfully, wonderfully, and beautifully made. Each person has natural and spiritual gifts. When we have faith in Christ, we receive a special, new capacity to share the love and grace of God with others in unique and irreplaceable ways.

Giving is About More than Money.

To understand what it means to be generous, we have to recognize that generosity involves more than money, and the root of generosity is much deeper than simply managing our money wisely. Our text today was from Second Corinthians chapter 8. Paul’s thought, however, stretches through chapters 8 and 9. Here is how Paul ends his message:

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:12-14).

 images-1We can easily miss what Paul is saying here. He is thanking the Corinthians in advance for supporting this offering for the hurting church in Jerusalem. However, he is also reminding the Corinthians that their generosity is going to overflow in many, many expressions of thanks to God, all flowing from the gospel of Christ and a willingness to share what God is done for us with others.

I am in the process of slowly cleaning out my office and going through things. This week, I came across an illustration so old that I can’t remember who exactly I was talking about. The story, however, goes like this: Years ago, I knew a person who was fairly successful in his business. He became aware of a charity and gave a little money to that charity. Then, he got interested in the charity. He volunteered. He began to help them in many ways. In the end, his life was changed. He spent the last years of his life working with this charity.

Some years ago, Andy Jordan and I were in Ghana together. We were able to meet with a gentleman from the United States. He was a Christian businessperson who had become interested in economic development in Third World countries. He was in the real estate business, and so he began to do a little work with ministries involved in Africa. Eventually, his daughter moved to Africa to work on micro-business investing. When we met him, he was making arrangements to take a sabbatical from his business in order to donate more of his time to the development of Ghana in West Africa. I don’t know what became of this man but he made a deep impression on us. What began as a small financial gift ended as a transformed life. The generosity he experienced was not just a generosity of money but of time, talents, and energy. Most of you do not know this, but Andy has been exceedingly generous in giving of his time, talent, energy, and money to support the people of Ghana.

The Grace of a Cheerful Giver.

Some years ago, I saw Nicholas Cage movie entitled, It Could Happen to You. [2] In the movie, Cage plays a New York policeman who purchases a lottery ticket. In order to get a cup of coffee, he promises the waitress half of it. A short time later he finds out he won $6 million. The first thing Cage has to do is decide whether or not he’s going to tell the waitress about his winning and share the winning with her. Against the advice of his wife, he gives away half. That gift begins a change in his life. He begins to give away more and more of the gift. Finally, the gift means nothing. In the end, Cage does not become wealthy, but he does find love.

This movie could be a metaphor for the spiritual life. When we begin to use our spiritual gifts, when we begin to be generous with our possessions, when we begin to allow God to change the world through us, we do not necessarily become rich (as some cults promise). Instead, we find love. We do not necessarily find human love; we find the love of God welling up in our hearts. When that happens, our lives are changed forever.

I talked about Ghana a few moments ago. In our own congregation, we have a person who began to go on trips to Honduras. This person fell in love with the people of Honduras. Currently this person is building a house in Honduras so that he can spend a part of the year there helping others in the name of Jesus Christ. What began as a small gift, some money, a few days away from work, has ended up in a completely changed life. The grace of God is being show in a life transforming way.

A Time to Think.

Our text tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. The reason why God loves a cheerful is  simple: God is a cheerful giver. God gave himself so that we might be saved. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. There was suffering. But the love of God overflowed in what Christ did on the cross. Hebrews tells us that it was because of the joy set before him that Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). That’s why in Second Corinthians  we hear that, though Jesus had everything in unbroken fellowship with the Father, he was willing to become nothing for us. Jesus didn’t do that reluctantly. He did it because of the overflowing Love of God.

images-2For the last twenty-five years I’ve always preached the stewardship sermon on stewardship Sunday. This year, I decided to do it a bit differently. Next week, the sermon is going to be from I Corinthians 13 on love. If our salvation is the first gift of God, and if each other is the second gift of God, and if our spiritual gifts to be used in the body of Christ for the third gift of God, and if an overflowing of generosity in our hearts is the fourth gift of God, all these gifts have a goal: love.

What I hope all my readers will do this week is take some time to pray, meditate, and think about the generosity of God. We need to think about the grace we were shown in our own creation. We need to think about the grace that Christ showed us on the cross. We need to think about the relationships we have with one another, here and in attending other Christian groups to which we belong. We need to think about our spiritual gifts and the opportunities we have to use them here at Advent and beyond. Then, each person needs to think about what it is they want to do to supply the physical needs of their own local church.

Our physical needs are not our only needs. The need we have to undergird the finances of our churches is only one of our needs. It may not even be the most important need. Our greatest need is to see the love of God poured forth day by day in the ministries and lives of our members. Many of you give generously of your time, talent, and energies more than one time a week, and I thank you. As you consider your generosity, think about how you might use your time, your talent and your energy in ways that will give glory to God. There a lot of important things in this world, but the most important is love.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The sources for this are the Bible, the New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Barclay’s Commentary on I and II Corinthians, The New American Commentary Vol. 29, 2 Corinthians, and The Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 10 Corinthians.

[2] Jane Anderson, wr. It Could Happen to You dir. Andrew Bergman. Starring Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, Rosie Perez (!994).

The Gifts that Keep On Giving

iconThis is the third in a series of blogs on Spiritual Gifts. The first installment had to do with the first gift of the Spirit: our salvation. The second installment had to do with the second gift of the Spirit: each other. In this blog, we are going to talk about the gifts of the Spirit God gives to build up the Body of Christ.

I am not a talented gift giver. I never know what to give Kathy or any of the children for Christmas. Most of the time, I don’t buy the right thing. Over the years, I’ve actually become kind of scared to buy gifts. I have gift induced anxiety.  I’m always afraid my gifts will be no good. God, however, is a perfect gift-giver. The Bible tells us that God is the “giver of every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). As a perfect giver, God never chooses a gift for us that we will not enjoy or that others will not appreciate. We may not know exactly why God gave us the gift, at least in the beginning, but eventually we will see that the gift was perfect for us and for those around us.

There is more than one kind of gift. Some gifts are for pure personal enjoyment. Other gifts have a purpose. For example, if I give my wife flowers it might be just to make her happy. On the other hand, if we are going to a party and I buy her a new dress, there is a reason for the gift: I want her to look nice for our friends. There are also gifts that were meant to be shared with others. For example, if I give my wife a box of chocolates, I expect that she will not eat all the chocolates. She will share them with me! The gift was meant to be shared.

Spiritual gifts are the third kind of gift: they were meant to be shared. God gives us spiritual gifts with the expectation that we will use them to build up the body of Christ. In this blog, we are talking in a general way about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God gives to every believer. There is no way I can possibly cover all of the gifts in depth in one blog. What I want to accomplish is to introduce the subject and get all readers interested to learn more. [1]

Paul’s Teaching About the Gifts.

Our text for this blog is from First Corinthians. Last week, we studied  the middle of Chapter 12 where Paul talks about the Body of Christ and how important each person is for the Body of Christ as a whole. This week, we are talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul mentions at the beginning and end of the chapter. Hear the word of God as it comes to us from the Apostle Paul:

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines (I Cor 12:1, 4-11).

Later on in the chapter, Paul gives an additional list:

 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts (I Corinthians 12:27-31).

Let us pray: O God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, please come in our time of worship so that we may more clearly know you and the love you have for us. Come by your Holy Spirit to enlighten, inspire, and empower us. In Jesus Name we ask it. Amen.

 Gifts are …. Gifts!

imgres-2I have a box I sometimes use to illustrate God’s Grace, especially at Great Banquet Weekends. It used to be wrapped as a Christmas present, and now it is wrapped as a birthday present. Why do I use my box? Because the word for grace in Greek is also the word for a “gift.” This word is also the word at the root of the idea of Spiritual Gifts, which are gifts of grace. [2]

The idea of our spiritual abilities as gifts is an important one to grasp. Once again, there is more than one kind of gift. Some gifts, like business gifts, we give with the expectation because of what another person has already done for us. I always used to enjoy getting Christmas gifts from clients but they were business gifts. I did something for them they did something for me. Some gifts are like business gifts: They are  given with the expectation of  something in return. Once again, these  kinds of gifts are earned.

We don’t earn the best kind of gifts. Gifts that are given to us by someone who loves us and cares about us, and who gives us a gift which we haven’t earned, are the best gifts of all. This is the kind of giver God is. God knows our weaknesses. He knows that we cannot earn our salvation. He knows that we cannot earn the fellowship of the Body of Christ. God he knows we cannot earn the gifts of the Spirit. He gives them to us anyway.

Although God expects us to use our gifts, just as a parent would expect a child to use a bicycle he or she that was given for Christmas, God isn’t giving us gifts of grace expecting something in return. However, like all givers, God hopes we will use the gift the way it was intended to be used. This does not mean that we earn our gifts of the Spirit. It means we appreciate our gifts and use them the way the giver intended.

Gifts are Meant to Be Enjoyed.

imagesIn just a few minutes, I’m going to talk about sharing our spiritual gifts. However, before I talk about sharing our spiritual gifts I want to talk about enjoying our gifts. People often ask how they can know what their spiritual gift is. Of course, there are spiritual gift inventories. There is one available in the lobby for those of you would like to take the test. However, these are relatively recent inventions. We don’t need them.

There are a number of signs that I have a spiritual gift. One sign we don’t talk about a lot is simply to ask, “What it is that God has me doing already?” Long before I was a preacher, I was asked to preach from time to time at the Star of Hope Mission in Houston Texas. It’s not surprising that preaching was a spiritual gift since I was already preaching the gospel before I knew what a spiritual gift was!

If you are already teaching a Sunday school class, and you enjoy it, it’s probable you have the gift of teaching. If people are constantly coming to you for advice, it’s likely that you have the gift of wisdom. If you already help people whenever you get the chance, it’s probable you have the gift of helps. If every group you are and asks you to be the administrator, you probably have the gift of administration. If you share your faith regularly with other people, it’s probable that you have the gift of evangelism. You get the idea: the first thing to think about is, “What am I already doing?”

A second a sign that you have a spiritual gift is whether or not you get joy from exercising that gift. [3] For example, I have always loved teaching. I’m always happy when I’m teaching a Bible study. It’s not surprising that I regularly test very high for the spiritual gift of teaching. Teaching gives me joy! If you really enjoy helping other people, then you might have the gift of mercy. If you really enjoy helping other people financially, you might have the gift of giving. If you really enjoy counseling other people, you might have the gift of discernment. You get the idea: We should and do enjoy what we’re doing when we are exercising our spiritual gifts. God gives us our gifts so that we can enjoy the use of our talents.

This does not mean that it will always be easy or fun. Some sermons are easy to prepare, and I’m full of ideas all week long. Some weeks, I’m tired, sermon doesn’t work out as planned, or it is sheer drudgery to get ready to preach. Yet, in the end, I do feel a certain satisfaction. That’s the joy of exercising a spiritual gift.

Perhaps my readers remember the movie, Chariots of Fire. [4] In the movie, the Scottish runner Eric Liddell is talking with his sister who thinks he should stop running and concentrate on becoming a missionary. Liddell wants to be a missionary; however, he also wants to run. In response to his sister he tells her, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” There is a tremendous truth in that scene of the movie. When we use our spiritual gifts, not only do we experience joy but we experience the joy that God feels in the use of our gifts.

Spiritual Gifts Are Meant to Be Shared.

images-1We have a member who each year around this time of year brings our staff Pumpkin Donuts from a place in the Frazier neighborhood that makes the best pumpkin doughnuts in Memphis. Normally, he delivers them to me. However, it is his expectation that I won’t eat twenty-four doughnuts. He expects that I will share them with the staff. In the same way God gives us spiritual gifts intending that we will share them. This is not a form of works righteousness. It’s the natural result of having received a gift meant to be shared with others. Once again, I enjoy teaching. It’s not hard for me to teach. I enjoy sharing new information with people. It may be work, but it’s fun. If I didn’t teach, I wouldn’t be sharing my spiritual gift, and would miss out on all the fun.

With as background, I want to talk a little bit about individual gifts of the Spirit. Each Christian has a gift given by God for the glory of his kingdom and to build up the Body of Christ. These gifts were not given for our own self-glorification but to glorify God and to build up the Kingdom of God in the world. In the middle of chapter 12 of First Corinthians, which we studied last week, Paul teaches us that all Christians were meant to use all of their gifts in unison and concert to build up the body of Christ and to show God’s love to the world.

In the letters of Paul, and in one of the letters of Peter, there are various lists of the gifts of the spirit. Here is a kind of graphic rendition of the lists:

Table 1: Gifts of the Spirit

Romans 12:3-8 I Corinthians 12 Ephesians 4:11-12 I Peter 4:10-11
Faith Faith
Prophecy Prophecy Prophecy
Speaking in Tongues
Interpretation of Tongues
Service Helping Others Service
Teaching Teaching Teaching Speaking
Mercy Helping Others
Apostles Apostleship

The lists are not identical. This is important. It means that the list of spiritual gifts we find in the Bible are not exhaustive of all the gifts that God gives by the power of the Holy Spirit. The lists are simply some of the manifestations Paul saw in his own churches. He lists the gifts of faith, wisdom, knowledge, apostleship, prophecy, service, helps, teaching, pastoring, encouragement, discernment, generosity, leadership, mercy, healing, generosity, evangelism, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, and leadership. Any attempt to group the gifts is artificial; however, it might be useful for me fit in a few categories so we can think more clearly about how we can use our gifts:

  • Gifts that create and build up the church, such as apostleship, evangelism, prophesy, teaching, leadership, and the like.
  • Gifts that share God’s love in powerful personal ways, such as healing, miracles, service, generosity, and the like.
  • Gifts of wisdom and counsel, such as discernment, wisdom, knowledge and the like.
  • Gifts of worship, such as prophesy, preaching, the ability to make music, and speaking in tongues.

None of these gifts were meant to be used for our own personal benefit. They were meant to be used for the benefit of one another and the body of Christ.

Go for It.

People sometimes ask whether or not you can lose a spiritual gift. I don’t know whether or not I can give you a definitive answer to that question; however, the following would seem to be true: Our spiritual gifts are just like any other gift. If we don’t use them eventually we do lose them. I may have a tremendous gift for music, but if I never practice and never play I won’t be any good. The same thing is true of our spiritual gifts: If we never use our spiritual gifts we get rusty and we eventually lose them.

It’s important for us to remember that God intends for  us to experience the joy of using our spiritual gifts and for us to use them in a way that enhances the Body of Christ. If we don’t use the gift, we don’t need a gift. There is also a reverse truth: If we set out to serve God and if we need a gift to complete that service, God will give it to us. Just his week, in order to help someone, I had to use a gift I rarely have to use these days. God, whoever, was with me when the time came and gave me the ability to share God’s mercy in a helpful way.

The second thing that I was asked to mention is the following truth: our spiritual gifts involve a power of God. They build upon our natural gifts and enhance them. Like any other power, spiritual gifts can be misused. A parent can give a child a gun so the child can go hunting, but that same gun could be used in a destructive way. There is a constant temptation to misuse our gifts, especially those of us who have leadership and related gifts. The apostle Paul wrote a good part of First Corinthians because the Corinthians were misusing the gifts that God had given them. The Corinthians had power, but they were not using that power to build God’s kingdom of love.

The third and final  caution I want to give has to do with pride and Spiritual Gifts. If we become proud of our gifts, we will almost certainly misuse them. Pride and love are contrary to one another, When our pride gets out of control we may think we have gifts and abilities we do not have. We may ignore the gifts of others. We may tend to take on responsibilities God never intended us to have. When that happens the peace and shalom God intends our Spiritual Gifts to produce becomes impossible. The result is the kind of chaos the Corinthians experienced.

We live in a time in which the world needs Christians to use their spiritual gifts. The world needs people who are sharing God’s wisdom in God’s love in life transforming ways. We need to go out into the world and use our gifts, whether our gift is evangelism, or mercy, or teaching, or sharing, or praying for the lost, or whatever. When we use our spiritual gifts properly and wisely, the light and love of Christ come into the world.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]  There are many good resources on the Spiritual Gifts. One book I like is Erik Rees, Shape: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose in Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006). If any one reading this blog goes online, they will find multiple resources, spiritual gift inventories, and the like, available from many resources. As mentioned, this particular blog is not intended as a substitute for personal study, talking with pastors and others, and other ways in which we discern and begin to use our gifts.

[2] The root word in Greek is “Charis,” which means something that delights causes joy. Such delight is the result of a disposition of the giver. In the case of Spiritual Gifts, God’s love causes joy and new life. The word for gift, “Charismata” comes from this root and implies that gifts are a result of God’s grace, which cause delight in us and in others who experience our gifts. They are also a sign of God’s favor upon his people. See, Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard Friedrich, eds, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament G. Bromily, Abridged Edition Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1983), 1301-1307.

[3] See note 2 above.

[4] Chariots of Fire, dir.Hugh Hudson, wr. Colin Wieland, starring ben Cross, Ian Charelson, Nicholas Farrel (Warner Brothers, 1981).

The Gift of One Another

This week our text is I Corinthians 12:12-28 and the subject is our need to recognize that the Church, God’s people and the relationships we have is a gift of God. There can be no wise living without living in community with a group of people one loves unconditionally.

Somewhere around 1960 a group of young couples in their 30’s formed a Sunday school class at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Missouri. The last Sunday my mother attended church, that class was still meeting although it grown quite small and very old. Throughout fifty years, this group of people had met together, studied the Bible together, prayed together, had fellowship together, raised children together, developing deep lasting relationships. I can remember Sunday school picnics that occurred over fifty years ago.

Last week, while we were in Houston, we were talking about a Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church of Houston. My in-laws were members of this class. This particular class began in another form during and after the Second World War and still exists as the Fellowship Class today. Once again, while the members are old today, the class began as a group of young couples who were getting married, forming families, having children, raising families, putting children through college, and then losing spouses to old age and death.

dscn0310When Kathy and I got married, the first Sunday after we returned from our honeymoon we joined a Sunday school class known as the “Carpenter’s Class.” The Carpenter’s Class was formed by couples in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Once again, we enjoyed our young married lives together, had children together, went through the problems of middle life together, until that class disbanded during a church conflict. Nevertheless, to this very day, if we returned to Houston, we have dinner with members of that class. We remain close to this very day.

This blog is about the gift of one another we receive from God by the Holy Spirit. If the first gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of our salvation, the second gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of Christian community. There is nothing so important in the Christian life than a deep, personal relationships with other Christians. The church is not an organization. The church exists as an organism as people live together in what Paul calls, “the Body of Christ.” The church is a living thing made up of relationships among real, living people.

The Body of Christ.

In First Corinthians, the apostle Paul uses one of the most famous metaphors for the church. He calls the church the “Body of Christ.”  body-of-christ-4If the phrase, “Kingdom of God” emphasizes the church as the place where Christ rules, and the phrase “Family of God” emphasizes the church as a family, a phrase “Body of Christ” emphasizes deep peaceful, relationships that should constitute the church. Paul wrote First Corinthians to a church that was in danger of falling apart. Therefore, he emphasized for them the deep personal relationships that ought to characterize the church.

Listen for the Word of God as it comes to us from the voice of the Apostle Paul:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (I Corinthians 12:12-27).

Prayer: God of Community, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has called us into community with one another, come by the power of your Holy Spirit this morning that we might be bound together in a community of love with other Christians.

The Gift of One Another.

It is sometimes hard for contemporary Christians to think of a church of 1,000 as a “Body of Christ.” It is much easier to realize that my Sunday school class or small group is a body of Christ. I know who the heads, hands, and heart of my small group are. I know how much I care for people I know intimately. I can feel that I’m a part of them and they are part of me. body-of-christ-5This is why we urge every member of our church to be part of a small group. It is in these kinds of groups that we first and most powerfully experience the power and privilege of Christian fellowship.

At a couple of meetings recently I asked people to think about the time they grew the most in their spiritual life. Interestingly, it was almost always in a relatively small and intimate group of Christians on a military base, in college or high school, in a small group Bible study, or a prayer and support group. This week, one of our staff members wrote me the following email: “I was intrigued by your question at staff mtg. “what group of Christians made the biggest single difference in my life”. After thinking a lot, I think it was my youth group experience growing up. We were a tight knit group that sang together, did mission trips together and had Bible classes in age groups. We laughed, played, studied, experienced new places TOGETHER. . .all in the name of Jesus. Even though I drifted away from my faith foundation for a while (although I still attended church!) these experiences were so impressive that it made me want to return to a lifestyle where community in Christ.”

In America we often speak of “joining the Church.” At Advent before most people “join the church” we have a new members class that they attend. When we talk like this, we open ourselves to two mistakes:

  • We begin to think of the Church as a volunteer organization, like any other that I choose to join or not join.
  • We eliminate any hope of understanding that the Church is a gift from God.

Often, when our young people go away to college, they stop attending church. I think most of them stop because they either (1) never understood that the church was a gift, that their Sunday school class is a gift, that their Christian friends are a gift, that their small group is a gift, and so they treat the church is something they can give up or (2) they forget that great truth. Unfortunately, I think we give the impression that the church is like the Kiwanis Club: I enjoyed being a member for a while but now I don’t. We can never be the people God intends us to be or experience the life God wants us to experience without the Body of Christ. Part of living wisely and lovingly is belonging to the Body of Christ.

God never intended for any of us to think of the church as optional or as a club to which we belong so long as we get something out of it. When Paul says, “You are the body of Christ,” he is saying that, at the moment of our salvation, we have become part of Christ’s mystical body, which is also really and physically present in the persons who surround us and make up our little church. We are meant to remain a part of that body, as it exists on this earth, as long as we live.

Last week, we had a Men’s Great Banquet weekend. This week, we are having a Women’s Great Banquet Weekend. I have been on the women’s team this year, but we meet together with the men’s team to prepare for the weekend. On the men’s team, there was a man, Robert Rooks, with whom I have been friends and in ministry since the first day I came to West Tennessee in 1994. For a time, we met every week in Brownsville on Sunday mornings. Although it’s been almost eighteen years since I left Brownsville, Robert and I are still bound together in the Body of Christ in a real, important, and life-transforming way. The people God brings around us are not incidental or an accidental parts of our Christian walk. They are the very body of Christ of which we are a part.

Different Folks, One Body.

A large part of First Corinthians 12 deals with  problems that can occur in the Body of Christ if people do not exercise their gifts and/or if people do not respect the gifts of others. If every Christian does not use his or her spiritual gift, then the body of Christ cannot function in the best possible way. It is like a human body that is missing one or more of its members. This is the problem most preachers spend most of their time talking about. However, there is an equally dangerous problem. This is the problem of a lack of mutual respect. This is like a body that has lost its ability to coordinate action and function in a healthy way.

In the church in Corinth, there were a lot of spiritually gifted people. People were speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, prophesying, leading, teaching, and the like. The problem that concerned Paul most was that there was no coordination or mutual respect. For example, those who spoke in tongues were speaking in tongues in an uncontrolled way. They were disturbing the worship of others. Those who were gifted in teaching were fighting among themselves as to who was the better teacher. Those with the gift of leadership were dividing the church into cliques, each following their chosen leader. The result was chaos.

Therefore,  Paul goes out of his way to make two important points:

  • First, whatever my gift might be it must be coordinated with all other gifts.
  • Second, whether my gift is large or small, is important and deserves respect. In fact, the least important gifts are to be given a greater respect.

Giving respect to all gifts is an essential element of servant leadership. Whatever my gift is, I didn’t get it for my own benefit. My gift is for the common good. If I’m truly serving the interests of others, then in humility I consider their gifts to be just as important as my gift. In fact, the Gospel teaches us that they are as important as my gift. Why? Because all of the spiritual gifts were given to bring glory to Christ in the body of Christ not to give glory to any individual person. The gifts were given to us to use for the common good, not for our own good or our own advancement.

The Great Need for Caring for One Another.

One of the greatest needs in our culture is for caring community. Every week at Advent we have the opportunity to help someone enter by modeling caring community. This week was no exception. Our members were visiting people in the hospital. Some members were helping people financially. Other members were counseling people that needed help with budgets and other items. Still others were running carpools to help families in trouble get their children to school and attended church events.

imgres-1One of the most powerful witnesses we make as Christians in our culture is when we love one another. People today often live a great distance from family members. Young couples often have to raise children and navigate the early years of their marriage without the kind of social support that was available in prior generations. Single parents, in particular, have to juggle multiple responsibilities, making parenting very difficult. Children grow up with less social support than in prior generations. All of this creates a need for caring mission in the church.

It has been eight years since the financial crisis. Although the economy has grown, many people are still without savings, without equity in their homes, and without the financial resources to withstand a crisis. Because of the materialism of our culture many families are economically stretched. At Advent, we have sponsored Financial Peace and other programs to help people learn to deal with their finances. We even have a few people who sit down privately and help people who need one-on-one attention. This is an important carrying ministry in our church and in every congregation.

America has experienced a loss of community over the last fifty years or so. The growth of extremely large metropolitan areas, and the migration of many people into large cities, has caused a loss of real community. It’s important for people to have friends who’ve known them over a period of years, who understand their problems, who accept their failings, and to support them in times of need. Small towns and small churches used it to supply this caring ministry. Today, many people live lives of quiet loneliness. They need a caring community. In most cities, the church is the only body that can possibly meet this need.

Caring within the Body of Christ.

Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34). Jesus also told us that he wanted us to have a special kind of love for one another—self-giving love—what the Bible calls “Agape Love.” On his last night on earth Jesus reminded his disciples that the greatest kind of love is the kind of love in which we die to ourselves so that others may live a more abundant life (John 15:13). For Jesus, this meant physically dying. For us, it’s physically easier, but perhaps morally more difficult. We have to learn to die to our own selfish egos so that we can build the kind of community that will shine like light in our world and draw people to Christ.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

The First Gift of Love: Gift of Salvation


iconToday we  begin a series on the Holy Spirit, which I am calling, “Many Ways of Giving.”  Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with believers (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:49; John 15:26-27; Acts 1:8) . His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven marked a new chapter in history. Through Jesus, God promised to be with his people in a new way. Today, we are talking about the first gift we receive and share with ohters  by the power of the Spirit: Salvation.

Of course, God has always been present by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis we learn that the Spirit of God was brooding upon the waters of chaos even before creation itself (Genesis 1:2). Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came upon prophets, spiritual leaders like Moses, and even kings like David. In the New Testament, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit to be a prophet of God (Luke 1:14). Jesus, of course, was endowed with the Spirit in a special and unique way (Luke 1:35; 3:22). Nevertheless, at Pentecost, the Spirit became present to ordinary people in a new and powerful way (Acts 2:1-42).

There had been prophecies that this would be so. In Joel, in a passage quoted by Peter on Pentecost, God promises to pour out his Spirit upon the people in a new way in the last days:

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons 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.

I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;…
(Joel 2:28-32).

In this blog,  we are talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit as God comes by the Spirit with his saving power.

The Spirit Comes.

As Acts tells the story, the disciples went back into the city of Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, where they had celebrated the Last Supper. For many days they waited and prayed that the Spirit would come upon them. imgresThen, on Pentecost, the Spirit came like a violent rushing wind and with the power reflected in flames of fire (Acts 2:1-3). They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Church of Jesus Christ was born.

For a while after Pentecost, the disciples ministered in Jerusalem using the Upper Room as their headquarters. After Stephen was stoned (7:54-60), however, a persecution broke out. Like all persecutions, the intent was to destroy the church, however, like all persecutions, the result was to strengthen and expand the church. [1] Two things wonderful things happened as a result of this first persecution of Christians:

  • The greatest persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, became a Christian (Acts 9)
  • The gospel was first preached to Gentile believers (Acts 10).

Acts 9-11 are three of the most important chapters in the New Testament. In these chapters, we learn of the spreading of the Gospel from Jerusalem and the reaction of the church and its leaders to this new development. Of these chapters, Acts 10 is, perhaps, the most important. [2] I’m only going to set out in this blog a short portion of it; however, I recommend that every reader of this blog read it for yourself. In this chapter of Acts, Peter is called to witness to a Roman soldier, Cornelius. Here is what happens at the end of the passage:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (Acts 10:44-48).

Savior God: We come to you this morning with a desire to sense your saving and empowering Spirit in our lives. Come to enlighten our darkened minds, warm our cold hearts, and change us until we are more and more like Jesus. Amen.

Receiving and Sharing the Gospel.

As we all know, a distinctive feature of Jesus’s ministry was that he was not a part of the religious elite. He was not a Pharisee, a Sadducee, a Scribe, or professional teacher of the law. He was a carpenter and itinerate rabbi. The people he drew around him were also not religious professionals. Jesus took a group of ordinary people and made them into disciples who would change the world. He wants us to be and do the same. He wants people who are filled with the Holy Spirit and have the power of God, not the power of human wisdom, as the source of their teaching (I Corinthians 2:1-5).

Because of the persecution the church experienced after the stoning of Stephen, many believers had to leave Jerusalem, which meant that outlying areas began to be evangelized. Philip, for example, evangelized in Samaria, where he converted Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-13). Peter and John went to Samaria and prayed for the new converts, who like the disciples at Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit (8:14-17). Philip then went south and met an Ethiopian Eunuch on the Road to Gaza (8:26-40).

Peter went from Samaria south where he ministered in in Joppa and stayed at the home of Simon the Tanner (9:32-43). images-1About forty miles to the north of Joppa, in the beautiful port city of Caesarea, there was a Roman Centurion named “Cornelius.” In the ancient world, there were Gentiles who admired the Jewish faith. They admired the lifestyle, morals, and reasonableness of the Jews. They also admired their orderly God. In a world in which there were many pagan gods, most of whom behaved in an immoral manner, thinking people truly admired the Jewish faith. Some of them actually began to believe in the God of the Jews and tried to emulate Jewish morals. These people were called “God Fearers.” Cornelius was one of these (v. 2).

We also live in a pagan world. If we keep our eyes open, we will see people who are seeking to know more about God and who admire Christian morals. They will especially admire us when we are willing to live differently in the way we raise our families, conduct our business, and go about our daily lives. These people are our version of God Fearers—or as Jesus called them, “People of Peace.”

In Caesarea, one afternoon, Cornelius had a vision (v 3). In his vision, an angel of God told him to send his servants to Joppa, to the home of Simon the Tanner, and bring Simon Peter to him. The servants set off on their journey (vv. 4-8). Around noon the next day, Simon Peter was on the roof praying when he had a vision (v. 9).  He was hungry, and in his vision he saw a sheet coming down from heaven and on the sheet were many animals the Jews regarded as unclean and inedible. God asked him to eat, but he refused (vv. 13-15).

Three times the dream was repeated. and three times Peter refused to eat any unclean food (v. 16). When the visions ceased, Peter was still unclear about the meaning of what he had seen and heard. At the very time Peter was pondering the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius arrived (vv. 17-18). After hearing them, Peter invited them into the home of Simon the Tanner– something he would never have done only a few weeks earlier (vv. 22-23). Already, the old prohibitions of Jewish custom, in this case allowing  a Gentile into your home, were beginning to go away in the lives of the disciples.

The next day, Peter and the servants of Cornelius set out for Caesarea. They arrived the following day (vv. 23-24). As Peter was welcomed into the home of Cornelius, he finally realized that God was doing a new thing (v. 28). Before, as a Jew, he could have nothing to do with Gentiles. In particular, he was not supposed to welcome a Gentile into his house nor was he supposed to enter the house of a Gentile. Now, Peter understood that his vision was a  declaration by God that the Gentiles were not to be deprived of the gospel (vv. 27-29). We need to hear that same message: God wants all people to hear the Gospel of Christ, and we cannot restrict to whom we are willing to witness. We need to be on the lookout for People of Peace and be willing to share with them.

As Peter and Cornelius began to talk, Peter learned of Cornelius’ vision (vv. 30-33). Then, Peter shared the Gospel with Cornelius and his family and friends. I want to share this with you because it is a simple, accurate, easy way to share the Gospel with others. It is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. Here is what Peter said:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10: 35-43).

When Peter finished giving his testimony and sharing the Good News, Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit and the gift of salvation from God.

A Vision for What God is Doing.

imgresYears ago, our congregation studied a wonderful Bible study by Henry Blackaby entitled Experiencing God. [3] One of Henry Blackaby’s most famous pieces of advice in the study was to find out what God is doing in the world and join God in doing it. That is exactly Peter’s experience! As a Jew, Peter was to have no contact with Gentiles. As a Jew, Peter thought that the Good News of the Gospel was for Jews—after all, Jesus was a Jew and the Messiah was for Jews!

Then, Peter had his vision from God and his invitation from Cornelius. He realized that the Gospel was not just for Jews, but for everyone (vv. 14-15). Peter didn’t know exactly what that meant at the time he received the vision. In fact, he struggled to understand what God was doing for many years, but Peter follow God in what God was doing in the life of Cornelius. [4] This is a reminder to us that we may not always understand what God is doing. We may not always agree with what God is doing. However, if we join God and what God is doing, we receive a blessing.

This week I was at a mission meeting and conference. As a part of this mission conference, we heard the testimony of three Christians who had converted to Christianity from Islam, one from Iran, one from Iraq, and one from Africa. In the Muslim world today, it is common for Muslims to have visions of “Issa,” which is their name for Jesus. During the conference, when asked about these visions, each one of our panelists was able to describe a specific instance in which a person converted to Christianity as a result of a vision.

To me, the most touching story concerned a young man in Iraq. He had a dream in which he was asked to go and see another person who sent him to a Presbyterian pastor in Iraq. Because of the danger involved, the pastor did not immediately baptize him. Instead, he checked out his story and discipled the young man. Eventually, it became obvious that his conversion was real. He was not a spy. The young man was baptized. He then went into southern Iraq where he spoke against Islam. He was killed and became a martyr.

Our panelists encouraged us not to be discouraged by the evening news. We see pictures of wars and demonstrations against the United States. Some of these demonstrators are paid to demonstrate. Our panelists told us that in little house churches all over the Middle East people are coming to Christ, and we should not be discouraged. God often works most powerfully where the church is in persecution. We just need a vision of what God is doing in the world and be willing to join God in what God is doing. It is not nearly as hard for us to witness to Christ in our culture as it was for Peter or is for Christians in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and a lot of other places.

God’s First Gift.

Acts 10 ends with Cornelius and all those gathered in his household becoming Christians and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 44-45). The Jewish believers who had traveled with Peter to Caesarea were astonished! (vv. 45). They could not believe their eyes! It never occurred to them that the Spirit of the God of Israel would come upon the Gentiles. Sometimes God will surprise us as well.

imagesThis is a series about the gifts of the Spirit of God. We don’t think about it very often, but the first gift each of us receives is the gift of salvation. The joy that filled Cornelius and his family on that day is a joy that every Christian should feel and remember. It has been many years since I became a Christian; however, I can still remember the joy of that first day. In addition, we need to remember that there is no joy greater for those of us who have already received the gift of salvation then sharing that gift with others as we are able.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] I do not have time to record all the instances of this truth. In the 20th Century the Chinese and others have tried to wipe out or suppress the church with the opposite result. As a result of the Chinese Communist oppression, for example, millions of people came to Christ in the underground, house church movement.

[2] William Barclay, “The Acts of the Apostles” in The Daily Bible Study Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1976). I have relied upon Barclay’s analysis of the chapters and their importance. See also, Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation Vol. 2 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsberg Fortress Press 1990).

[3] Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God (Nashville, TN, 2008).

[4] We know from Galatians that, even after his defense of Gentile Conversion in Acts 11:1-18, Peter vacillated between his support of Gentile conversions and his uncertainty as to whether Gentile Christians should have to obey the law and otherwise follow Jewish customs after conversion (Galatians 2:11-21). This continued to be true at least until the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15:1-29.