First Mennonite Church
August 18, 2019
The Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church
Text: 1Corinthians 12:1-11
Let us be very clear about something: If we truly believe the Spirit of God is with and in us today, there should be much more than his mere sealing us for the day of redemption. Not that this work is a small matter. But if that were the case, the Holy Spirit would not have much relevance today in our personal and community life as a congregation for today. Even this sermon would have been a waste of my time preparing it and of your time considering it. But if we believe the Spirit is at work, transforming our lives, enabling us as individuals to live according to our holy calling, and imparting gifts and empowering the church to carry out its ministry, then we should be eager to know how the Spirit does it. We should be desperate to allow ourselves “be filled, molded, and used” by the Spirit of the living God, as we sing. If the Holy Spirit is active in the church creating unity of the spirit and in the body, we should be desiring to know how and to avail ourselves to do his work in us, as Jesus promised in John 14:16.
It is my belief, according to the promise Jesus made to his disciples and the testimony of Paul and his instructions to the churches he established, that the Holy Spirit is God’s presence and power made available to the church and to each individual believer to be able to live a life that witnesses to God presence and work in the world. It is by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that we are able to live in a way that not even through personal refinement, education, and strict moral behavior, can afford us to live. You see, people can live a pretty decent life by adhering to a given philosophy. People can live with good moral standards as a result of strict religious up-bringing. People can also have refined manners developed through education, secular or religious. But it can be that these people will lack the joy, peace, gratitude and compassion that come along with the power to live a godly life as the Holy Spirit gives. It could be that no matter how refined, decent, or morally upright these people could live, it is likely that they will be legalistic, judgmental, and self-righteous when others cannot live the way they do. And such attitudes certainly do not come from the Spirit of God.
Today, there is an increasing number of Americans who are claiming to be spiritual but not religious. Many Americans are abandoning religion because many are finding the church lacking evidence of God’s Spirit actively present in it. Thus, these people, whatever their definition of “spirituality” they are craving for, are finding it in one way or another. It is no wonder why so many people are experiencing with a mixture of Eastern religions and pantheism. It is no surprise that many are tailoring their own system of spiritual practices. And it could be that this social trend is due in part because the Christian church is missing out on what should be one of its central characteristics—its spiritual vibrancy. It could be that the Christian church is becoming a religion that fails to believe and live according to its confession of a God who operates supernaturally. The Christian church—and just to be very specific, a Christ-believing church is an institution that is both a religious and spiritual. A religion without the active presence and working of the Spirit of God is simply psychology or philosophy. And as I said earlier, philosophies can shape people’s lives and do it very well. But we should remember that Christian experience of faith in Jesus is an experience of the supernatural, which not only reorients our way of life, but also gives us a deep sense of personal connection with a personal being beyond ourselves, which is God. But when a religion limits itself to what is rational, intellectual and cannot believe in the supernatural, it becomes a religion with a system of beliefs—mental affirmations about certain biblical truths, but lacking the experience that touches the soul, emotions, and everyday life. A religion that is limited to what is mental and rational but not spiritual is what some called the new Trinity: God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Son and the holy Bible. Therefore, a religion or church without the active and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit will fail to satisfy the deeper needs of the individual or will create a people who at best are more concerned with proper behavior, right doctrine and who at worst are legalistic in their community life. That is because the fruit of the spirit which not only binds the community in love, but also gives wisdom, guidance, truth in love to build each other in the body.
Let us go and see what Paul is trying to address in the church of Corinth. The Corinthian church was riddled with all kinds of divisions. And that situation was brought to the attention of Paul. And the one who wrote to Paul about this (1:11) gave him a list of issues of divisions. Among those in the list is the Corinthian’s deep misunderstanding about the gifts of God to the church through his Spirit. Some in the church had been giving excessive importance to the gift of glossolalia, speaking in tongues. The gift of speaking in tongues, besides being given an unnecessary prominence in the church, it was also creating chaos during the worship service. The worshipers were all speaking unintelligible words and instead of edifying, they were making the worship service look and sound like a madhouse. (Allow me to point out something here. I believe the Corinthian problem with tongues is a real danger when misunderstood and misused. But because church and church leaders often desire to be found on the safe side of things and to always be in control of what happens during the worship service, they have kept their distance from the gift of tongues and by doing so have also disregard all the other gifts. In the pursuit of order, decency and good public relations during the worship service, spontaneity of God’s Spirit direct involvement in the service has been limited, if not completely vanished from the worship service.)
Therefore, when Paul addressed the issues that divided the church, he reminded the Corinthians of one foundational principle that should govern church life and ministry, including the manifestations of God’s Spirit through each member in the body. In verses four to seven, Paul writes: 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.
First, everyone who is a member in Christ’s body has been endowed with a gift from the Spirit of God. God has given each of us something special. In some cases these gifts are permanent and in some others it been given to us for a special occasion or need in the church. Along with God’s gift to each of us through his Spirit, every gift is equal in rank. There is no particular gift that is more important. And Paul uses the body to illustrate this truth. No part in our body is more important that the others. The hand cannot say to the feet, I do not need you, nor the ear to the nose, says Paul. The gifts we all have are equally important and needed in the body of the Lord.
Secondly, each gift comes from the same Spirit. The abilities you have, whether developed or innate, are given to you with the purpose of contributing with them for the wellbeing of the church.
Thirdly, each gift should be exercised for the common good. The idea of doing everything for the common good of the body is expressed by Paul throughout his letter to the Corinthians. In quoting the mantra of some in the Corinthian church, Paul says,
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (10:23-24). Each of us can choose to say or do something or we can choose to do nothing. But as Paul would say, “Yes, you have the right to do or say something, but not everything is beneficial to the church.” Therefore, we should not seek to do only what pleases us.
Again Paul says,
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 14:26.
We should all seek to do something that builds the church. To each of us God has given a gift with which to build and contribute for the wellbeing of the church and we should exercise that gift.
Paul even concludes his letter with this admonition:
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. 16:13-14.
My dear friends, if we truly believe God has given us something with which to build up his church, if we truly love the Lord and are grateful that he has endowed us with something special, let us desire God’s Spirit to either activate that gift in us or to empower us to be a blessing to his body, the church. God wants to use you and me for his glory. God wants us to display the glory of his love through the gift he has given each of us. The world needs to see that God is present and at work in us. But we must desire to allow the Spirit to work in our lives, first. Our faith in Christ and our love for him and his people are manifested when the Spirit of God operates in our lives and in our midst. Let us open our heart to receive the gift of God to us. Amen!