08 November 2007

Homily from August 2002

Editor's Note: This is the third homily of this series of recovered texts.

Eucharistic Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
4 August 2002

Preached at the Primitive Episcopal Mission Station in Indianapolis, Indiana by Father Robert Lyons

In our Epistle reading today, taken from the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, we are given food for thought on the role of the Gifts of the Spirit in the life of the Church. In reviewing this selection from our Lord's Holy Word, we are called to mind the fact that all of us who have been baptized into the Body of Christ are called to be full partakers of the Gifts of the Spirit, and to make the use of them that God would have us make.

In the first verse, Paul describes his desire to teach the truth to the Corinthian Christians. He says,

" 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant."

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul understood that we must seek the right knowledge of the spiritual gifts in order to live a life in which we make the best use of those gifts. Paul wants to ensure that the people of God realise that there are guidelines and rules associated with the Spiritual Gifts, and that God does not allow his gifts to be used for ill, for show, or for other purposes that are contrary to their institution.

Paul continues,

"2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led."

Sadly, the Corinthian Christians were, at the time of Paul's writing, something of a sad lot. Evidently, they had little regard for the truth of the Gospel, and Paul reproves them for it. Paul is making a comparison in this second verse, one that must have cut straight to the bone of the Corinthians. He is chiding them for allowing the spiritual gifts to become empty, dumb idols, by comparing their state after receiving the Spiritual gifts to their state before receiving them. Paul's implication is clear: the Gifts of the Spirit were being misused by the Christians at Corinth; and because God's word is relevant for all times and all places, we must by extension look about our world today, and admit that there are congregations who equally have allowed the Spiritual gifts to become lifeless, dumb idols - replacing a true commitment to Jesus Christ.

Verse three presents an interesting clause to put the entire reading into perspective. Paul writes,

"3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."

Indeed, we believe this to be the truth. And yet we see so many Christians today who have allowed the working of the Holy Spirit to be neglected in their lives. Even a man who has committed evil and has not repented can say that Jesus is Lord, because God pours his spirit out upon all flesh, seeking, that he might find. The fact that one can proclaim that Jesus is Lord in the power of the Spirit is little proof of holiness or salvation. The use of what may appear to be the Spiritual Gifts are no more proof than a profession of Christ as Lord. Indeed, the true measure of professions and the spiritual gifts' effectiveness are to be found in the fruits of profession. . . and in the fruits of the Gifts.

We continue in verse four:

"4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit."

Today, we live in an era where the true test of the Gifts of the Spirit are not the fruits of the use of the Gifts, but in the reception of the gifts alone. There are places where, if you do not speak in tongues, you are considered unsaved. This is not a biblical doctrine, but it is indeed a doctrine of the Devil. Paul clearly states in this verse that there are differences of Gifts. The gifts that I receive are appropriate to my place and my role in the ministry of God's people. Those gifts may match with the gifts that each of you have received in some cases. In other cases, they will not. The diversities of gifts allow us to fulfil complimentary roles in the Body of Christ. Not all the parts of the body are fingers, or eyes, or arms, or legs. We all have a unique role to play, a role that the Spiritual Gifts compliment. The Holy Spirit does not form us on a cookie-cutter style assembly line. Just as we are unique creations in the womb, we are unique creations in the Spirit when we are born again.

Verses five and six reiterate the point:

"5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."

To reiterate his statement in the fourth verse, Paul explains that differences in the roles we play do not change the love of God towards us, for we have received, as the foundation of all gifts, the greatest gift of all: the gift of forgiveness. By grace, we have been forgiven of our sins. We can do nothing to merit that remission and forgiveness of our sin-debt. Yet, when we accept, on faith, that we have been forgiven, we become conduits of God's love to our hurting world, each of us according to the plan God has put into action for us. We are called, each one of us, to a unique position of ministry in the Body. Yet, we are all united to the same Lord. There is no difference in our salvation, nor in the blessing we receive. . . the difference is only in the way we are called to share the gifts and blessings of God with others. Verse seven shows us why.

In verse seven, Paul says,

"7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal."

Each Christian will face new and unique challenges and calls to ministry in their life. The Holy Spirit's gifts are given to man so that he may find himself equipped for the situations that will arise, according to the plan that God has for him. So often, many who seem to lack certain Spiritual gifts will lament the fact that they do not seem to have them. I have heard of people praying and fasting for weeks, sometimes for months, just to get a gift of the Spirit - tongues, often; or prophecy. As a dear friend of mine once told me, "You can fast for a century, and if God's plan doesn't include what you are asking for, you are wasting your time." God indeed bestows upon us certain gifts . . . gifts that are appropriate and necessary for our walk with Christ and for the encouragement of others, and ourselves. Note the particular order that is conveyed. Christ's needs in this world take the priority. If the Gospel message is to be properly communicated, it will be accompanied by signs and wonders - that is certain. However, those signs and wonders will be the signs and wonders deemed appropriate by the Godhead, not by us. God knows what we need to witness to Christ, and we are granted gifts that will, first and foremost, meet these needs. Second, these gifts, as a part of God's will, flow for the purpose of encouraging others. The conveyance of faith and the continual encouragement of the faithful is a very important part of our walk with God. But note that in such a case, the gift is still being used for the benefit of others. Spiritual gifts, while often conveying some personal benefit, are intended to help others, not ourselves.

Now, in verse eight, Paul changes the tone of his discussion on the Gifts. Instead of describing the use of the Gifts, he describes the Gifts themselves. Taking together verses eight to eleven, we hear:

"8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."

Notice that the gifts herein listed are not listed in any particular order of preference. How can we be sure of this? Because the principal gift, the gift of faith, is not listed first. If we take seriously the biblical and ancient belief that Faith is a gift of God, bestowed by grace, and that faith is necessary for the true exercise of the other Spiritual Gifts, then we must accept that the gifts of the Spirit are all placed upon what approximates an equal footing. Each gift is then given as needed, and exercised as desired by God, for the purpose of building up the gift of faith in others, in obedience to the call of God on our lives.

Far too often, individuals will use the appearance of spiritual gifts to cover the fact that they have an absence of any of the Spiritual gifts. Most of us will readily admit that we have met men and women who claim to have one (or all) of the Gifts of the Spirit, men and women who indeed demonstrate that they have no such gifts, but only the appearance of gifts. It is, quite frankly, easy to convince someone that we have a gift of tongues. One of the reasons that the Scriptures command us to have an interpreter when we speak in tongues in public is to prove out the truth of the Gift that is being exhibited. Yet, false interpreters also spring up. Even the safeguards that the Bible puts in place are circumvented by men and women who, I believe, are desperate to be noticed and to be accepted as having the Spiritual gifts.

Sadly, gifts such as words of wisdom or knowledge, prophecy, and discernment of spirits are just as often abused. . . the result being rents and tears in the Body of Christ from people making false accusations and making "divine" proclamations about the spiritual, physical, or emotional state of another Christian. It's no wonder that the Charismatic movement has more detractors than supporters. The visible witness of the modern Charismatic movement is just as much one of backstabbing and abuse as it is one of Godly love. This is the exact same problem that Paul addressed back in verse two.

Does this mean that the Gifts of the Spirit are, as many would claim, dead? Absolutely not. In my work in the hospital, I have seen miracles, bona-fide miracles. I have seen the lame walk, the blind see, the wounded healed. I will attest to the fact that God's gifts are still active in the world today, in their intended form. They are powerful witnesses to the glory of God. Yet, today, we are faced with the problem of so-called Charismatics who are abusing the gifts of the spirit for personal glorification. This is a blot on the public face of the Body. Each of us is harmed when televangelists, crusaders, even local pastors claim to work miracles that later turn out to be frauds. They are falling into the sin of allowing the Gifts to be hollow. . . just like the Corinthian Christians, whose use of the gifts appeared to be hypocritical.

Indeed, the ancient Church had many of the same problems that we face today. Writing around the year 180, Irenaeus illustrates this fact. He writes:

"It behooves us to flee from the Gnostics as we would from Satan. The greater the display with which they are said to perform miracles, the more carefully we should watch them, as having been endowed with a greater spirit of wickedness."

However, this is not to say that there is no genuine working of the Spirit, because, as he would write later in the same work,

"Those who are truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, . . . perform [works] in His name, in order to promote the welfare of others, according to the gift that each one has received from Him."

Irenaeus indeed believes that there is a true and fruitful use of the Gifts of the Spirit, but those gifts are never for self-gratification or for personal glory. . . they are always to be used to assist others. In his writing, he went on to describe some of the Gifts that he had witnessed, and the power that was show to all, believer and unbeliever alike, through the right use of those Gifts. We, today, must be certain that we are using the Gifts of the Spirit for Christ's purposes, not our own.

What does all this mean for those of us who seek daily to make the fullest use of the Spiritual Gifts? It means, quite frankly, that we must always evaluate our use of the Spiritual Gifts against the use the Corinthians made of them. We must not use them in an empty, hollow, self-serving way. The use of the Gifts that we engage in must be biblical, spiritual, and beneficial to others, not just to ourselves. God's gifts are never intended to be self-serving, but are intended to be shared with others. We must faithfully seek to use God's gifts in fidelity to God's word, and in obedience to the example set for us by Paul's writing to the Corinthian Church.

Scripture Quotations from the King James Bible. Irenaeus' Quotations adapted from "The Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs", edited by David Bercot.


All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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