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Know the Spirit's Work

October 6, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (1 Corinthians 12:1-7) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians
Preached at a Combined Service service

Tags: 1 Corinthians 哥林多前书

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Title: Know the Spirit's Work
Date: 6th Oct 2019
Preacher: Rev Wong Siow Hwee

When most people see something done or performed, these are the two thoughts that will pop into their minds. They either focus on the act or they focus on the person. It is the same with Church. When a sermon is delivered, we think ‘good sermon’ or ‘good speaker’; or when somebody is charitable, we think ‘what a wonderful gift’ or ‘what a wonderful person.’ Today, we want to add a third perspective, which is the most important perspective when it comes to matters regarding a Church or a Christian. What is the perspective? When it comes to a sermon or a charitable act or something kind or something edifying, before we can think of ‘good act’ or ‘good Christian’, we must learn today that we must first think of ‘good God’ or ‘good Spirit’. If we do that, and we recognize that behind all the gifts and services and activities happening in Church, it is God at work, then it will surely transform the way we perceive those around us, and the way we see ourselves.

But what does it mean when we say that it is the Spirit that is behind the gifts and services and activities that we find in Church? Today, I ask that we all memorize one important verse 1st Corinthians 12:7 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” This verse summarizes the 3 key aspects of the Spirit’s work that I want to highlight today.

Point 1: For the common good
Paul wanted the Corinthians to be free from a very crucial ignorance. And that ignorance was that they could worship God the same way as they worshipped when they were pagans. There is a remarkable difference! You can worship Greek gods like Zeus or Venus or Chinese gods Goddess of Mercy or God of Wealth in the same way, in the sense that they are there to grant your wishes. Whichever it is that you desire, you approach the right one ‘in charge’ and worship accordingly. But it is drastically different when it comes to Christianity. When it comes to worship, you have to be given the Holy Spirit to enable you to worship. Because it is only when the Spirit is given, then you can say ‘Jesus is Lord’. And when the Spirit is given, then you cannot say ‘Jesus is cursed’, because that can never be the work of the Spirit.

When we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, we are claiming his lordship over us. In the past, there were only two scenarios for proclaiming lordship, either you were referring to Caesar the emperor or you were a servant referring to your owner. When we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, he is the one who is king over all other authorities. When we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, we are saying we are his servants to answer to his bidding and do his will. Such acknowledgment of Jesus’ sovereignty and such submission on our part is never easy. Our hearts are hard against transformation and our minds are dull to the true reality. Hence, it is only by the Spirit that it is possible for us to proclaim that ‘Jesus is Lord’. Those without the Spirit cannot claim Jesus’ lordship over them.

Similarly, nobody that is of the Spirit can say that ‘Jesus is cursed’. There are two ways to interpret this phrase. One, you are saying that you can heck care about Jesus. You have so much freedom and liberty that Jesus does not matter to you. Or you are saying that ‘Jesus gives a curse’. This was a popular way of using deities in the past. Idol worshippers relied on their deities to curse their enemies, hoping that their deities would bring misfortune to their targets. Both ways of interpretation sum up one thing about the person that makes such a proclamation. And that is, the person’s self-agenda comes first. Jesus’ will is brushed aside or he is used as a tool to serve the person’s selfish objectives. If you are of the Spirit, you will never make such a proclamation or harbor such a thought.

What is Jesus’ will? It is to build up the kingdom of God, and the most visible form of it is the Church. Therefore, the ones who are of the Spirit, those who claim Jesus’ lordship over their self-agendas must put the kingdom of God, the holy community that is the Church, first. This is the only way to discern if a work or a person is of the Spirit or not. If it is of the Spirit, it is good for the Church. Jesus who is Lord wills it so. If it is not of the Spirit, then we see Jesus chucked aside or used for personal gratification. Paul used a simple phrase ‘for the common good’ to clearly spell out what it means to say that a work or a person is spiritual.

How does this truth impact our Christian living? Many times we differentiate what is spiritual from what is not, by judging whether it is supernatural or not. Sometimes, we also judge by the results, if it is ‘abnormally’ successful, or whether the work is ‘Christian-like’. Now we know all these don’t matter in the discernment of what is spiritual. We know a work is the Spirit’s work if the motive and the purpose is for the good of the Church, and we know it is not when it serves selfish gains. What matters is if the work done is ‘Christ-like’. This is because the Spirit is all about the lordship of Christ. What you do doesn’t matter as much as why you do and who you do it for. And the first point is: for the common good.

Point 2: The manifestation of the Spirit
There are many things going on in a Church. There are displays of gifts, acts of services and lots of activities. To the naked eye, they may seem worlds apart. Yet, from the exuberant passionate worship-leading to the sorrowful silent wake service, from the artistic meticulous decorations to the diligent down-to-earth toilet cleaning and from the serious brain-burning bible study to the wild nerve-wrecking fun and games, these are all manifestations of the same Spirit. The same one Spirit! It is shocking indeed! There are so many different kinds, but all originating just from one. It is shocking, but not surprising. That is because this is the very nature of God himself. The manifold manifestation of Spirit should not surprise us because God himself is manifested to us in this manner. God the father, creator of heaven and earth, sustainer of all life, righteous and holy; Jesus the son, humble and meek, lover of sinners, died a man on the Cross; the Holy Spirit, personal yet universal, powerful yet in obedience, transforming yet unchanging; such different properties and attributes, but yet one God who we worship.

We must recognize the unity that is present in all these many seemingly different things. They may be different, but they all profess one thing, that it is the same Spirit that is manifested. We may belong to different ministries; different cell groups, different languages and backgrounds, and these differences are real. But we cannot really speak of different status, different levels of importance, different final objectives because at the very core, the very essence that makes all these possible, is the same Spirit. The Corinthians thought that the different ways they experienced God made that special and unique, Paul reminded them that it was precisely because they were different that they were really the same and must remain in unity. The same Spirit is the one that works through all. Therefore, we especially must refrain from overly extolling the super-natural from the mundane. As long as deeds are done for the common good, they reflect Christ-likeness and that is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

There are many examples I can think of, but one thing I would like to share today is youth ministry. This phase of the human life is essential for a child to become an adult. Their brain develops rapidly and their need to develop an identity drives them into extreme self-consciousness and individual awareness. My point is that it is therefore understandable that not many people are keen to work in a ministry at a stage where the audience is there learning to challenge authority, assert responsibility and discover raging hormones. However, when you see people willing to spend time with the youths, drinking coffee, talking pop culture and kicking a soccer ball, they may not be doing holy and 'spiritual', but in their care and concern, they are manifesting the holy Spirit. I use youth ministry as an example, but it is the same with other activities in Church as well.

Point 3: To each one is given
Point 1 says that the way to tell if a gift or service or activity is spiritual is to see if it is for the common good. Point 2 says that all these activities are manifestations of the Spirit, and we must recognize them as such. Point 3 is that everyone of us has the potential ability to contribute. As a Christian, the Spirit is in us, and its empowerment is there for us to receive. Verse 8-11 says, “One person is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit; another, a word of knowledge by the same Spirit; another, faith through the same Spirit; another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit; another, the workings of mighty deeds; another, prophecy; another, the ability to distinguish spirits; another, various kinds of languages; another, the interpretation of languages.” The key word I want to emphasize today is 'another'. The way Paul was writing meant that the list is not exhaustive. It is another and another and another until the very last Christian that is willing to be used by the Spirit for the good of the Christian community. And every 'another' will have something new and complimentary from the Spirit to add to the Church. It is the same Spirit that manifests himself in a different way in another Christian. It is hence important that there is not jealousy or comparison or overly intentional mimicry and imitation. I for one am extremely glad that in Jubilee, the pastors preach in different ways, the worship leaders have different styles and the cell groups have different dynamics. This is unity in diversity.

One important truth that must be emphasized is that everyone has something from the holy Spirit to give. Everyone must seek and ask and contribute. The moment you accept Christ and receive the holy Spirit, there is surely something in some area where you can serve. When we look at Church history, we see 'great deeds' and 'great people', but today we add a new perspective, we say 'great God'. We identify which is the work of the Spirit when we see the Church build up in the process. And they are very different: from the suffering martyrs to the triumphant evangelists, from those who fight with their swords to those who defend with their words. Everybody has a role to play and they all manifest the uniqueness that the Spirit freely gives. What about you?

1 Corinthians 12:1–7 (Listen)

12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

(ESV)