August 18, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
Gifted to Serve
1 Corinthians 12



ILL: I love tubas! You gotta admit that tubas are cool! But imagine a marching band in which everyone only played the tuba. I love tubas! But it wouldn’t be a very good band! If that’s all you’ve got, it’s pretty boring.

That’s what seems to have happened in the church in Corinth in the New Testament. They all loved the tuba, and pretty soon church services were just a big tuba fest! Their tuba was the gift of speaking in tongues. Everyone spoke in tongues—other gifts weren’t being used—it was just a big tuba fest.

So Paul wrote to correct that and encourage a little diversity. We’re going to read 1 Corinthians 12 and we’ll learn that every gift is important—yours to

Introduction and Offering

This summer we have been working our way through the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church he planted in Corinth to correct some really messy problems. Today, we come to chapter 12, the first of three chapters that deal with how they were using spiritual gifts. Evidently, they really liked the gift of speaking in tongues, and were using it to the exclusion of other gifts. They were a tuba marching band!

ILL: I heard a great definition of mediocrity. “Mediocrity is going to Baskin Robbins and ordering vanilla.” What’s Baskin Robbins slogan? “31 Flavors”. You’re going to a place with 31 flavors and ordering vanilla? Come on!

The church in Corinth had all these flavors in their midst and everyone was eating vanilla! There were lots of gifts, but the only one being used was speaking in tongues.

In chapter 12, Paul deals with the general issues about spiritual gifts; he’ll get to the specific issue, the tubas—tongues—in chapter 14. You won’t want to miss that chapter—come back in two weeks for that. And next week, we’ll look at chapter 13, Paul’s great hymn to love—one of the most famous and beautiful chapters in the Bible. You won’t want to miss that either. Here’s

The Big Idea: God has gifted each one of us just as He wants for the good of others.

We have different gifts, but God is the author of them all.


1. Unity in diversity: we have different gifts but the same Spirit. 1-11

1 Corinthians 12 (NIV)

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Paul wanted them to be informed, to know about the gifts of the Spirit. I want that for you too. Why? God’s work gets done by people like us using the gifts God gave us. Too many of us are uninformed that we have these gifts or that God wants to use us. So I want you to know about spiritual gifts so you can do God’s work.

By the way, at the Leadership Summit, Bob Goff said that Christians “love God, love people, and do stuff.” Let’s do stuff!

But what was going on in this church? Were people really saying, “Jesus be cursed” and thinking they were inspired by the Holy Spirit? We don’t know. What we do know is that Paul is clear that the Holy Spirit always honors Jesus. The Holy Spirit inspires us to say, “Jesus is Lord.”

“Jesus is Lord” was the first Christian creed. It amounted to saying that Jesus is God. “Lord” (Gk. kurios) was the official title of the Roman Emperor—“Caesar is Lord.” And it was the word used to translate the name of God in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. To say “Jesus is Lord” was to give Jesus your supreme loyalty and worship.

This is what the Holy Spirit inspires: love, loyalty and worship for Jesus. Anything less than that isn’t from the Holy Spirit.


4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Here is the theme: there are different gifts but one source: God. To a church that was stuck on one gift—the tubas, Paul emphasizes that there are many different gifts, and that these all come from the Lord.

Notice a couple things. First, there is unity in diversity. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity—that we’re all the same. Christians come in all colors, sizes, shapes and types. We are different in many ways, including in how God has gifted us. But behind all 31 flavors is one God. We are different and we are one.

ILL: This is the secret of a great marriage. The two become one. Someone said, “The real question is, ‘Which one?’” The two become one, but not either one—a new one, and yet without losing their individuality or identity. The best marriages are unity in diversity, a celebration of our differences that make us better together than either of us are apart. Laina makes me better.

Celebrate the differences and enjoy them! We are better together!

Second, notice the Trinity. The word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible, but the concept is. Here Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Lord (just defined as Jesus) and God. Father, Son and Spirit are all named as the single source of these different gifts. There is unity in diversity in the church, and there is also unity in diversity in God. One God in three persons. Have fun thinking about that!


7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Here’s the Big Idea: each one of you has been given “a manifestation of the Spirit.” I like this! Spiritual gifts are the manifestation, the evidence of God’s power and presence in your life. They announce God’s presence. When you use the gifts God gives you, others will benefit and will recognize God at work through you.

You are gifted by God! Let that sink in. You are gifted by God. And He expects you to use what He has given you for the common good. God’s gifts are not playthings to be used for our own pleasure; they are tools to be employed for the common good. They are used to serve others and do God’s work.

What gifts do you have?

Paul names nine of them. The list is not exhaustive—there are many more than nine—it’s an illustration. “For example,” he says, and then rattles off these nine. Other gifts are listed at the end of this chapter, in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. And I think that not even all these lists together include all the gifts that God gives. So if you don’t see your gifts listed here, don’t despair.

I’m not going to take the time to define each one—I’ll let you work on that in your Life Groups. Some are pretty obvious. But on a few of these, we have to guess what Paul meant. What Paul had in mind by “a message of wisdom” or “a message of knowledge” might be very different from what we think. So have some fun in your Life Group this week talking about what these gifts might be, and if you’ve ever experienced them.

Just remember:

Each one is gifted.

God determines who gets what.

The gifts are used for the common good.

They announce God’s presence.


2. An illustration of unity in diversity: the human body. 12-31

Paul uses the human body to illustrate the idea of unity in diversity. My body is one, but has many different parts with different functions. This is true of the church.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Here is the basic premise: the church is like a human body. It is one body made up of many parts. One yet many. Many yet one.

That oneness, the unity, comes from the Spirit. We were all baptized in the Spirit and we all drank the one Spirit. What does that mean? We all drank the Kool-aid? Here’s the deal. The Christian life is fundamentally life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we become Christians, God puts His Spirit within us, and we live with a new power source. The Spirit inspires us to follow Jesus as Lord, and empowers us to be new people and live new lives. And He equips us to serve—the gifts of the Spirit—so that whenever we use a gift, it is a “manifestation of the Spirit”, announcing God’s presence.

I like to remind people that the Christian life is not difficult–it’s impossible! You can’t do it without God’s power, without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not a divine additive that you can take or leave. He’s not STP you add to your engine; He’s the engine in your car. He’s not like a vitamin supplement or a 5-hour energy drink; He’s the food that fuels you all day long. You can’t live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit.

Paul uses a couple metaphors to describe this. We are baptized in the Spirit. The word, “baptize” means to immerse. It was used of immersing cucumbers into brine to make them pickles, or of immersing cloth in dye until it soaked up the colors. You immersed something into an element until it absorbed the qualities of that element. To be baptized in the Spirit is to be immersed in the Spirit so that you soak up His qualities and become saturated with Him.

Then Paul says that we all drank the same Spirit. Paul might have been thinking of Jesus’ words:

John 7:37–39 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

If you’re thirsty, come to Jesus and drink—and keep drinking (it’s the present continuous tense). We’re to be spiritual dipsomaniacs! We keep coming to Jesus and drinking in the Spirit and the Spirit becomes a river of living water flowing out of us. It’s a beautiful picture of a thirsty person drinking and drinking and finally becoming a source of satisfaction for others!

This was their common experience in Corinth. They were baptized in the Spirit—saturated with the Spirit’s presence and power. And they were drinking in the Spirit, and becoming sources of living water themselves. And this was their common ground. God was alive among them. God was at work among them. Living water was pouring out of them.

If this is not your experience, come to Jesus and drink. Let Him fill you with the Holy Spirit! I ask every day to be filled—because I leak! I keep coming and drinking. I need the Holy Spirit! We’re going to pray in a few minutes.

We are the body of Christ and the Spirit of Christ lives within us. Have you thought about what this means? You are the body of Christ. If Jesus wants something done on earth, He does it through us. His Spirit empowers His body to do the work. The Body of Christ is the presence of Jesus in the world. Where we are, He is. And He is doing His work through us. When you go to work tomorrow, remember that Jesus is going to work in you. What does Jesus want to do through you at work? At home? In your neighborhood? At school? When you are present, He is present. You bring a river of living water with you!

Here come the implications of being the Body of Christ:


15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul has a little fun with this illustration, don’t you think? A foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body.” That’s a stupid foot! Or an ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body.” What if the whole body were a gigantic eyeball? Well, for one thing, it would be blind! We also couldn’t hear anything. A gigantic eyeball would be a useless monstrosity! Or what if the whole body were a gigantic ear? It would be deaf—and we couldn’t see anything. Have you ever looked closely at peoples’ ears? Ears are funny. But a gigantic ear would be a useless monstrosity. The human body is made up of many parts—thousands of them—not just one.

Paul’s point is clear: if we were all one part, where would the body be? Don’t get stuck on one gift and think that’s it. There are lots of gifts.

ILL: I read about a high school football player who was destined to be a great college fullback. He had a unique combination of size, speed and power, set all kinds of high school records, and was highly recruited by major universities. The summer after high school, he took a job in a lumber camp, as much for the conditioning as the money. And in a freak accident, he lost his big toe on one foot. It turns out that without that big toe, he lost his quick starts and agility. It was the end of his athletic career. Who’d a thunk?1

The church has a lot of big toes. Lots of people who think they’re not that important, but they are! Every gift and every person is important and needed. No one can say, “I don’t belong. I don’t matter. I’m not needed.”

But we do. We think that and say it all the time. We compare ourselves to others and think, “What do I have to offer? Not much. I’m not needed.” But you are! Each person matters and each gift is important! God has made us what He wants us to be. You are important! Without you, the body is crippled. Without you, our church is not operating at full strength—like a football player without a big toe!

Let me tell you something about comparison. Comparison is deadly. It either leaves you feeling proud (“I am better than you.”) or miserable (“I’m not as good as you.”). You will always find people better or worse, more or less than yourself. It doesn’t matter. You are needed—be you! If God wanted you to be like Sam, He would have made two Sams. He made you to be you. You have a unique contribution to God’s Kingdom that no one else can make. So stop comparing and trying to be someone or something else and be you! Use what God gave you to serve others and to make a difference.

Then Paul flips it:


21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

So first Paul says that every person is important and needed. Now he flips it and says that every person needs the rest. I am needed, and I’m needy. I am needed to do the work, but I can’t do it alone. We need each other. You need each person around you! Take a look around. You might be tempted to think, “I don’t need him. I don’t need her.” But you do.

Have you ever been tweaked at someone and think, “That’s it. I don’t need this. I’m done with this person.” Or maybe you just look at someone who seems to have nothing to offer and you think, “I don’t need them.”

ILL: I’ve been doing Christian leadership for over 40 years, and God has made sure in whatever group I’m leading to have some EGR’s. That stands for Extra Grace Required. You know the types.

There was Vicki in our youth ministry in Eugene. Vicki had no social sense. She would sit at my feet during Bible study so she could tie my shoelaces together. She would talk out of turn. She was a big girl and she loved to surprise boys by jumping on their backs—usually knocking them down to the ground with Vicki tumbling on top of them. Mortifying. Vicki drove me crazy—but I needed Vicki. She taught me and the students things that the cool kids could never teach us.

Here in Spokane, there was John who was with us on Mallon Street and at Nora. John was physically and mentally handicapped due to an accident as a teenager, and he was a handful. He had been kicked out of most churches in town. When I asked him who invited him to Life Center, he told me the name of a pastor of another church—you gotta love that! John spoke out of turn in church so often that he came to be known as “not now John.” He’d call me at home in the middle of the night to ask me for an aspirin or what I thought of Jimmy Swaggart. He liked to fart in church and look around to see if anyone noticed. John drove me crazy—but I needed John. I learned things from him that you couldn’t teach me.

So look around. You need every person you see, even the EGR’s. Paul says that the weaker members of the body are indispensable! In fact, we give them special treatment, special honor, and he uses the example of our private parts to make this point. We cover them and treat them with special modesty. In the same way, we go out of our way to make even the smallest and the weakest members feel that they are special, so that everyone has mutual respect and concern for each other.

So Paul hammers home the point that each of us is gifted by God. And this means two things.

First, you are needed and important. Everyone has a gift.

Second, you need everyone else. No one has them all.

We need each other.

He finishes:


27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 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. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Y’all are the body of Christ. The you is plural—y’all. I am not the church. It drives me crazy when people say, “I am the church.” That is like my eye saying, “I am the body.” Y’all are the body of Christ. Y’all are the church. And each one of you is part of it.

You are a part of the Body of Christ. You belong. Turn to someone and tell them, “You belong.” You are a part of the Body of Christ. Together, we are the visible representation of Jesus on earth. We are to do what He would do. If Jesus wants something done on earth, we are His hands and feet and big toes. He does it through us. Go do what Jesus did. Love God, love people, do stuff!

Paul finishes with a slightly different list of spiritual gifts and persons, and then asks a series of rhetorical questions—and the answer is no. Are all apostles? No. Are all teachers? No. Do all have gifts of healing? No. Do all speak in tongues? No. He’s hammering home the idea of diversity. Value all the gifts, not just one. We are all needed, and we all need each other.

Are spiritual gifts important? He tells us that we should “desire the greater gifts.” What does that mean? My opinion: the greater gifts are the ones that help the most people, that meet the need at hand. If someone is sick, the greater gift would be healing. If someone is in trouble, the greater gifts would be the ones that help them out. In every situation, I want the Spirit to give me what I need to help others. I want God to work through me.

Do you desire that too? Let’s pray and ask God to fill us with His Spirit.


1 Chafin, K. L., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1985). 1, 2 Corinthians. The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Vol. 30, pp. 152–153). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.