Body Gifts

Selections from I Corinthians 12

Many years ago, Kathy decided that our church in Houston, which had not had a Vacation Bible School for many years, needed to have one. We had a small daughter of the age to go to VBS, and Kathy wanted her to have the experience she had as a child. Therefore, she organized the first VBS in our church in about a decade. She discovered she had the gift of leadership.  About five years ago, she went to a Missions Conference and learned about a disciple-making program. She came home, began what is now Salt & Light, and discovered that she has the gift of evangelism.

More than forty years ago, a young associate pastor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a person recognized to be on the fast-track to a large church, began an evangelism program. Another Presbytery found out about the program. The other Presbytery asked him to found a new church in Memphis, Tennessee. He went and the church grew. My friend didn’t know that he had the gift of apostleship, but he did.

We have a dear friend who, after years of Bible study, growing up in a Christian home, marrying a Christian husband, and raising a family, began to pray for people to be healed. Interestingly, a significant number of those people experienced healing. My friend discovered she had the gift of healing.

Shortly after the Second World War, a young soldier came home. After a few years, he began his own business. Over time, the business was able to support his family. He gave to the local church. He participated in stewardship, building campaigns, and other projects. When his church created something like our Family Ministry Center, he was a contributor. The choir of the inner city ministry sang at this funeral. He didn’t know it, but he had the gift of generosity.

This morning, we are talking about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are important to the Christian life, and it’s important for us to have a handle on our spiritual giftedness. 

Text and Prayer

First Corinthians is one of the earlier letters of Paul. The Corinthian church was wealthy and charismatic. It was also undisciplined, self-centered, and unspiritual. Paul wrote First Corinthians to instruct the church how to overcome some of its problems, including the misuse of spiritual gifts.  First Corinthiansis a great text for churches in America, because we too are often wealthy and gifted, but self-centered and unspiritual.

Our text is from chapter 12. I’m not going to transcribe all of it, but only those portions that are pertinent to begin this blog. Hear the word of God as it comes to us through 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.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (I Cor. 12:1, 4-13).

Let us Pray: Eternal God, we thank you for the Spirit of Jesus that comes to us to save us, to perfect us, and to give us every perfect gift we need for the Christian life. Please come to us this morning and allow us to become ever more faithful children of the Father. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.

The Giver of the Gifts

In order to understand spiritual gifts, we should spend a few moments remembering that spiritual gifts are gifts of God. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, sent by the God the Father through God the Son. In other words, the Spirit is God present with us. The Spirit is not something sent from God or an emanation from God; it’s God. The Spirit of God has always existed. It was brooding over the face of the deep before the world was created (Genesis 1:2) The Holy Spirit is the same spirit that inspired the Moses to write the Law, the Prophets to speak words of warning to people, David to be a good and faithful king, and Jesus to be born of Mary and to live his sinless life. 

Secondly, in First John we also learn that God is love (I John 4:8).  The word used is “Agape.” In other words, the Spirit is the unselfish, self-giving love that Christ showed on the cross, the same love that is faithful and redeems his people even when they do not deserve his love. This is important! God is love and always works for the benefit and best interests of others. Therefore, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit always works for the best interest of God’s people.

In First John we learn that God is light (I John 1:5). In other words, God is full, complete and perfect wisdom, the same supernatural wisdom through which he created the heavens and the earth and by which all things are sustained even until today. Because the Spirit is the Spirit of the creator God, we can be sure that the spirit always works in wisdom and never works in confusion, over-emotionality, or self-centered behavior.

We demean the Spirit if we make of the Spirit just a power, as people sometimes do. The Holy Spirit is powerful, but it’s much more than power. The Spirit is the wholeness of God come to be with us, save us, perfect us, and empower us. Just as the Father and the Son are persons, the Spirit is the personal presence of God with us..

The Gifts of the Giver

The precise gifts of the Spirit are another area in which there is often misunderstanding. In Romans 12, in First Corinthian’s 12, and in Ephesians 4, there are lists of gifts of the Spirit. In various other books of the Bible there are references to gifts being given to the people of God (See for example, Exodus 31:1-6 and First Peter 4:10-11). Interestingly, the lists are completely not identical. In other words, all of the lists represent major some of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit. No list is exhaustive. There are gifts that some people recognize that are not listed. For example, the supernatural ability to create worship music or art in worship is a gift, but it’s not in any of the lists. [1] God gives many different to his people.

This morning I want to look at some of the major gifts our members might have found in today’s passage and affirmed in other places in Scripture.

  • Wisdom is the ability to understand the way the world works and discern practical, achievable solutions to the problems of life. 
  • Knowledge is the ability to understand the deep things of Scripture, of God’s nature, and of God’s creation. 
  • Faith is the ability to look at discouraging circumstances and uncertainty while maintaining the confidence and trust in God. 
  • Teaching is the ability to communicate the truth of Scripture in ways that people can understand. 
  • Prophecy is the ability to apply the truths of Scripture to world events. 
  • Discernment is the ability to discern good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. 
  • Speaking in Tongues is the ability to speak in a heavenly language. 
  • Interpretation of Tongues is the ability to interpret to understand the deep things spoken in a heavenly language. 
  • Helps is the practical ability to help other people in need. 
  • Leadership is the ability to lead people towards a common goal. 
  • Administration is the ability to manage the business of the people of God.
  • Encouragement is the ability to encourage those who are discouraged so that they can live out the Christian life. 
  • Generosity is the ability to give above and beyond what would be expected of a normal person to meet the needs of others. 
  • Apostleship is the ability to plant new churches to allow the kingdom of God to grow. 
  • Pastoring is the ability to shepherd God’s people.

If you want to know more about your own spiritual gifts and how they might be used, in the email of the week from our church there is a link to a spiritual gifts inventory. If you go on the Internet, there are many such inventories. [2]

Years ago, I took my first spiritual gifts inventory. Not surprisingly, my number one gift was teaching. As the years have gone by, God has given me other gifts, including the gift of prayer, counseling others, and pastoring a local congregation. Just because you have a particular gift today does not mean that that it is your only gift, or that God does not intend to give you other gifts in the future. God is a perfect giver—and God never stops giving gifts to his people (James 1:7).

The Motive of the Giver.

Most church leaders who have led for any length of time, including charismatic pastors, have a degree of suspicion about some people as regards spiritual gifts. Sometimes, the existence of a gift makes a person proud or difficult. Sometimes, the existence of a gift will make a person think that they are better than others. Paul experienced the very same thing!! The church in Corinth was a gifted church, but their gifts had made them proud. Those who had special gifts thought they were better than others. Part of the reason Paul wrote the Corinthians was to remind them that all gifts are necessary for the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:7).

This is why humility and love are so important in using our spiritual gifts. In Romans, just before Paul speaks of spiritual gifts, he warns the Romans not to be puffed up about the gifts, but instead to serve one another in humility (Romans 12:3). This past week, I was visiting with a friend from another state about a person we both know well. This person has leadership gifts. Unfortunately, after years of leadership, he is still immature. He’s left more than one church. He has divided more than one congregation. This highly-gifted, intelligent individual is not yet capable of using his gifts to build up the body of Christ without causing problems.

You see, God has a reason for giving spiritual gifts: God wants to build up the body of Christ. The gifts are given so that the entire body of Christ might reflect the nature of God. We are giving gifts of wisdom because God is the only wise God Romans 16:27; Jude 1:25). We are given gifts of prophecy, because God is the god of the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). We are given gifts of pastoring, because God is the good shepherd (John 10:11). We are given the gift of mercy because God loved us so much that he said his Son to save us (John 3:16). All the gifts are necessary. None of us has all the gifts, because God wants to create a family in which everyone is necessary. The gifts of the Spirit are given to build up the body of Christ and to show us how dependent we are on one another.

The Goal of the Gifts

At the end of today’s chapter, Paul urges the Corinthian’s to earnestly desire the greater gifts, especially love (I Cor. 12:31). Here is how Paul concludes his teachings on the gifts of the Spirit:

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 Corinthians 13:1-13).

This reminds us to end where we began: with love. Love is the source of the gifts and love is the goal of the gifts. The gifts are nothing without love.

Without love, none of the gifts are worth anything. The least gifted person in our church with the most love is greater than the most gifted person with the least love. Let me say that again: the least gifted person in our church with the most love is greater than the most gifted person with the least love.


[1] Spiritual gifs inventories often differ depending upon what group or denomination is preparing to list. Those who are secessionist (believing that the sign gifts ended at the when the Bible was completed) often leave out healing, speaking in tongues. etc. Charismatic groups almost always include the so-called “sign gifts.” Nearly all mainline spiritual gift inventories include music and other spiritual gifts that are not listed in the Bible.  This seems to me to be consistent with Scripture. The lists contained in Holy Scripture are illustrative of the giftedness God intends for his people.

[2] See, (Downloaded October 20, 2018). There are many fine inventories online and in books and pamphlets. In my experience, despite the differences among them, there is a consistency of result. For example, I still test highest for teaching in most inventories.

Generous Living

A “Sermon on the Amount”

There is no character in Scripture more fascinating than Abraham. For those of you who don’t know his story, a brief introduction will help you understand what a wonderful passage we are studying in this blog. The story of Abraham begins with the death of his father. Terah. Abraham’s father was the head of what a Bedouin-like tribe we know as the “Hebrews.” They had begun their journey near Babylon, in the Ur of the Chaldees. In Haran, near today’s Damascus, Terah died (Genesis 11:27-32).

Abraham was now the head of the family. By now, Abraham was well-along in years. He was comfortable. He lived in or near a relatively wealthy city. However, Abraham had a problem: he and his wife Sarah were without children. He had no heir to whom to leave his property, position, and responsibility. 

One day, when Abraham was already an old man, the Lord came to him and told him that, if he would go from his home to a land which God would show him, the Lord would give him descendants and bless the whole world through him (12:1-3). Scripture tells us that Abraham believed God and so by faith and trusting in God went from Haran in order to receive the promised blessing. This action of Abraham resulted in his becoming a hero of the faith, whose trust in God is used over and over again as a symbol to faith all believers should have (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19).

When Abraham left Haran, he took with him Lot, his nephew. He also took along his cattle and sheep all of his belongings his wife and his family. Anyone who’s ever seen a travelling Bedouin group can imagine many people walking through the desert with camels and donkeys carrying their belongings as they led their herds of goats and sheep along the Fertile Crescent south towards what we today know as “Israel.”

Eventually, Lot and Abraham had so many sheep that their herdsman were constantly fighting for grassland and water. If you remember from our series on the 23rdPsalm, sheep graze land almost to the stubble of the grass. Therefore, it is necessary to move them from field to field. You just cannot have too many sheep grazing together in a single area.

Therefore, it was necessary for the Lot and Abraham to separate (Gen. 13). Given the choice by Abraham, who might have chosen the best land for himself, Lot chose a fertile area in southern Judea near the Sodom and Gomorrah. He eventually moved into Sodom. Later, the king of Elam and his allies made war against the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies (Gen. 14). (These kings were really little more than chieftains who controlled a particular city and the surrounding land.) Eventually, Lot was captured with his belongings and wives and taken into captivity (14:11).

Upon hearing this, Abraham gathered up 318 men and fought a battle, rescuing Lot, recovering his belongings, and capturing himself a great deal of booty. Today’s text takes place after that battle, as Abraham meets a mysterious figure called “Melchizedek” on his way home.  Melchizedek, whose name means “King of Righteousness,” was the king of Salem. We think that Salem was in the same location as modern Jerusalem. Their meeting probably occurred somewhere near that spot.

In the New Testament, Jesus is called a “Priest after the Order of Melchizedek.” You see, Melchizedek was not in an Aaronic priest of the law of Moses. He lived hundreds of years before Moses. Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God prior to the Law being given and prior the Jewish priesthood. Similarly, Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi; he was of the tribe of Judah, in the line of David. Yet, on the cross, he demonstrated himself to be our High Priest. Jesus is a King of Righteousness, having fulfilled the law by his life and sacrificial death.

Text and Prayer

With this long introduction, let’s read and hear the word of God as it comes to us from Genesis chapter 12:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abraham, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Then, the king of Sodom said to Abraham, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth,that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:17-24).

A Tithe of Friendship and Gratitude

When people talk about tithing, and when pastors preach on tithing, they often begin with the later biblical passages after the law of Moses. They forget that tithing existed before the law of Moses. People have expressed their gratitude to God for the blessings of life since Cain and Able at the beginning of Genesis (Genesis 4:3-6). These were offerings of thanks and gratitude for the harvest God had provided. It is important that we remember that giving and tithing begins with gratitude.

In today’s passage, Abraham has fought a great battle against kings with superior numbers and better trained armies.  On his way home, he met Melchizedek, the King of Salem, a Priest of the Most High God and King of Salem. When they met, Melchizedek brought out wine and bread and they shared a fellowship meal.  The same elements Jesus used in the Last Supper as he instituted the meal as a symbol of our new fellowship with God by faith in Christ.

As was pointed out several weeks ago, hospitality is a big part of Middle Eastern culture. When Melchizedek, reached out in hospitality and friendship to Abraham, Abraham responded with gratitude by giving a tithe to Melchizedek. In this way, these two men were bonded together as friends by the terms of their culture. This is a wonderful picture of our relationship with God.

Abraham recognized that his victory was not of his own doing. He realized that God had delivered him from his enemies. That’s what Melchizedek, says in his blessing. In response, Abraham tithed to his new friend. Our act of giving should be motivated by the same features that characterize the relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek: God has opened up his heart to us and provided salvation to us, bringing us into his household. We’ve been made friends of God. In joyful gratitude for all that God has done, we open our hearts to God and give back to God from what we have been given by his grace.

A Tithe of Blessing

Wisdom literature teaches that we should honor the Lord with the first fruits of our wealth. When we do this, God promises we will receive a blessing in return. Here is how it is put in Proverbs 3:

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the first-fruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be filled to overflowing,and your vats will brim over with new wine (Proverbs 3:9-10).

Wisdom literature is not a law or set of rules. Wisdom literature contains observations by the wise men of old about the results of human behavior given the nature of the universe and how God acts. [1] The wise men observed that generous people frequently received a blessing in return for their generosity. This was certainly true of Abraham!

Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to talk a number of our members about experiences they have had where God responded to their act of generosity by restoring to them as much or more of what they had given. Now, this isn’t a necessary thing. It doesn’t always happen. However, I can tell you, that in my life, I’ve been surprised how frequently exit generosity lead to blessings.

A Tithe of Trust/Faith

As time went on, the law of tithing was incorporated into the Torah. The word “Torah” is the Hebrew word we translate as “Law”. This is a good translation, but it leaves something out. The word Torah also means “Instruction”. If one reads the five books of the Old Testament known as the “Torah,” one immediately notices that the majority of the text is an historical narrative. It’s the story of God’s people as they live out the life of faith. The instruction we receive from the story is not law in the sense of rules. It is a way of life lived in faith and trust in the living God.

This is where we get to the next principle of stewardship and tithing: By the time of the prophets, the people of Israel were no longer respecting God, seeking the blessings of God, and responding to the grace of God by trusting God in all of life. Therefore, the prophets questioned the people and warned them about the consequences of their unfaithfulness and lack of trust.

Several weeks ago, I was in a prayer meeting on Thursday evening with a small group of people. One of those people was Margie Townsend, one of the members of our Pastoral Search Committee. At the meeting, we talked and prayed about our church and giving. Margie reached into her Bible and gave me a card that Hu Auburn handed out in 1999, almost twenty years ago!! On that card is printed Malachi chapter 3 verse 10. It reads as follows:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it(Malachi 3:10). 

Often, this verse is used to talk about the law of tithing. Notice, however, that obedience to the law is not the focus of the prophet’s words. What’s mentioned is the blessing of living joyfully in faith and trust in God, giving to God and expecting that God will meet our needs because we are his friends, his children, members of his family and tribe! Once again, there is a law, a teaching, and we ought to follow it. But, that is not the fundamental reason to give. The reason to give is in response to the blessings we have received from God, personal, spiritual, emotional, and material.

Jesus and the Tithe

Finally, this morning I want to talk about Jesus and tithing. Often, preachers, scholars, and others say that the Old Testament practice of tithing no longer applies in the New Testament or to Christians. For a number of reasons, I don’t think that’s correct. Fundamentally, the reason I don’t think it’s correct is because God hasn’t changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God wanted to bless his people and have fellowship with his people in the Old Testament, and God wants to bless his people and have fellowship with his people today! 

God wants to bless us to be a blessing to others today just as he wanted to bless Abraham. God wants us to be joyful members of his family as much today as he wanted the ancient Jews to be members of his family, so that they could be a blessing to others! He wants to bless the world through our faith, just as he wanted to bless the world through Abraham’s faith. God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

In a passage in Luke, Jesus was doing mighty deeds of power, driving out demons, and teaching with great wisdom. The crowds were coming to him, and of course the Pharisees weren’t always thrilled by his teaching or action. At one point, Jesus says the following:

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone(Luke 11:42).

This passage undercuts those who believe that Jesus abrogated tithing as a practice for God’s people. Jesus is not criticizing the Pharisees for tithing. He is criticizing them for legalistically tithing, but neglecting to love others and do justice and love God first. 

Last week, John Murtha said something in our worship service that is very important: “We can give without loving but we can’t love without giving.” That’s exactly what the Pharisees were doing! They were giving without loving. They didn’t really love God or other people. What Jesus is saying is we should give, not legalistically, but out of the abundance of the joy of Christ in our hearts and the love we have for God and others!

Living as Grateful Friends of God

I want to leave us this today right where we began: Once upon a time there was a man named “Abraham”. God promised Abraham that if he would walk in trustful faith, he would bless him. Abraham responded to God in faith. God responded to Abraham’s faith. In the end Abraham received the blessing of the promised son. But he received something more, Abraham became a friend of God. Over years and years of walking by faith, Abraham’s personality became such that God called him his “Friend.” When we live like Abraham, walk in faith and living by faith, we also become friends of God. Tithing, you see, is simply a part of being a friend of God.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ-Followers(Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).