I Corinthians 12:27-31
September 13, 2015
“Many Gifts, One Spirit” This follows not too long after my message entitled, “One Body, Many Members.” Do you remember that one? It was just a few weeks ago. (Around August 23rd.) That was the day I said we are all important in the Church of Jesus Christ. No one can say they’re not. (Although some people try to!) I used this 12th Chapter of Corinthians that day, and I said that, not all of us are leaders, but everybody can do something. Everybody is in “ministry.” And I asked you to think about what your part would be. I hope you have!
Well, today we think about those who are leaders – those who have been called to leadership. That’s how we express it in the Presbyterian Church. Here, we focus on this passage that came right after the one we used before. This is the end of I Corinthians 12. And this tells us how some are called to specific ministries. Paul wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” That’s what the whole previous part was about. Then he said, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.” (I Corinthians 12:27-28) Those were the various leadership “positions” they had in those days.
Some are appointed as leaders. And that’s what we celebrate today! We have different leadership roles in our tradition, but they serve essentially the same functions as those in Paul’s day. So, this is the “Apostolic Succession” lived out! (Remember that term?) This is the “authority” of the Church, which comes from Jesus himself, and has been passed on through the ages – though his Apostles – all the way down to us! That’s the “Apostolic Succession.” And that’s a big calling! I hope we have an idea today of how big that is!
More than that, though, I hope we see how this is also a big calling for all of us. Because all of us are playing the game of “Follow the Leader.” Do you remember playing that when you were a kid? You picked a leader. (Usually through some time-honored tradition like “Eenie meenie miney moe!”) And then the leader did or said things, and everybody followed. We went over the tops of swing sets, crawled under picnic tables, climbed through trees, walked along curbs – anything we could think of. It was great fun! Maybe you can remember doing all that. But wouldn’t have had been much of a game if the leader did or said all those things, and everybody just watched! (What would that be, “Watch the Leader?”)
Well, in a sense, we’re playing “Follow the Leader” here. Just think of it that way. All you good children are playing “Follow the Leader.” But we’re playing that game in its highest form! (Well, maybe! “Follow the Leader” has a pretty high tradition!) As I said back in August, church leaders lead all of us in the ministry of Jesus Christ! Every one of us is called to ministry!
Yes, some are called to leadership. And as we celebrate that today, we need to know that, for the rest of us, there are two important jobs. One, pray for these people! They need to feel the Holy Spirit guiding them and inspiring them so they can do what they are about to do! That’s very important! And the second job is, as I said, to follow! Again, we’re not playing the game of “Watch the Leader.” And know that the same Holy Spirit they need to hear and to follow as they lead us, we all need to hear as we follow!
That’s the key to all of this – the Holy Spirit! The more I’ve read these passages from I Corinthians 12, the more I’ve come to realize that’s what this whole chapter is about – the Holy Spirit. It’s about the Holy Spirit being in all of us. In verses 12 and 13 he says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:12-13)
In the first few verses of the chapter, Paul tells us how we are all given “gifts” by the Spirit, but it is all the same spirit. Even though some are called in specific ways, it is the same Spirit that leads us. And he says over and over that the same Spirit is in all of us! The ear cannot say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” That would not make it any less a part of the body. So, no one in the church can say, “Because I am not a leader, I do not belong to the ministry.”
So this whole thing comes full circle, really. We celebrate our leaders, but we recognize that we are all part of the ministry in which they are leading us.
So, as we celebrate this day, I would exhort you, as leaders, to lead! I like to tell the elders, “If you expect the people to participate, you need to participate. If you expect them to be generous, you need to be generous. If you expect them to be enthusiastic, you need to be enthusiastic. If you expect them to be spiritual, you need to be spiritual.”
So, by your example, lead them in all those ways. As you just promised, seek to lead the people “with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.” And above all seek to be led by the Holy Spirit yourself! Seek the Spirit’s leading in your conduct, in your decisions, in your whole outlook.
And those who follow, I would exhort you as well – to follow! Don’t just watch! Pray for these you have just installed and even ordained. Recognize the calling they have just answered. Follow their leadership. Know that this ministry here is about all of us! And it all points to him who is the head of our ministry, Jesus Christ! We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture!
Eternal God, by your Holy Spirit, you have called each one of us into your church. Help us all to know the power of your Spirit growing within us each day. Bless those who we recognize this day, who you have called. Strengthen them as they seek to serve you and to follow your leading. And bless all of us, as together we strive to promote the ministry of Jesus Christ and to follow him as his people. For this we pray in his name, Amen.