I Corinthians 12:12-31
September 11, 2015
Today, we celebrate leadership. And so, as part of a worship service, we install those who have been called to leadership. And that’s very important! Because we’re talking about “Ministry” here. This is not just about who will handle budgets and program and organization. And don’t get me wrong! Those things are important! But here we do more!
Here, we focus on this passage from I Corinthians 12. And I like this passage for this occasion, because here Paul tells us how some are called to specific ministries. He wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” And 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.
As we think about our leadership, let me remind you about what they didn’t have. We talked about this a few weeks ago. In the early church they had no Bible. They certainly had no New Testament. And if they were not originally part of a synagogue, they had no Hebrew scriptures, either – that which we now know as our Old Testament.
So what did they have? Do you remember? Primarily, they had the Gospel story, the story of Jesus. That’s what the Apostles were going around telling people about. Then, the early church had the teaching of those men, who were his followers. And eventually the letters of those men, along with their other writings, would become our New Testament. And a “testament” is a witnessing to something. So the New Testament was the witnessing to the story of God in Jesus Christ.
They had those things, and they had their basic structure of leadership through the Apostles, which we just read about. And that “authority,” they passed down through the ages… to us – to these people we install today, and to all of you who have accepted that leadership role over the years. That’s the “Apostolic Succession,” I like to talk about in these services. It puts us into the long history of this thing called the church.
Think about that history. Think about your own part in that history. Think of the leaders of this church that you’ve known over the years. I’m sure you could name lots of people, recent and not so recent, who were part of that “succession.” You could think of people who once sat with you here in this place, that are now part of what Paul calls that “Great cloud of witnesses” that surround us as we “run our race, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” I love the way Paul describes this whole thing.
That history, that authority, comes down to us from the authority of the Apostles. That’s what they had in the early church. And of course, they had the Holy Spirit. We can’t forget that! That’s something we’ve been talking about a lot this year. And I hope we see how important that is, too! We look to that same Spirit that guided them, to guide us! And that’s not easy!
Think for a moment about how we read the Bible. You’ve heard me say before, that without the Holy Spirit, we can make the Bible say anything we want! And people have done that over the years. They justified slavery in this country using the Bible! I think that’s about the worst example! But that can happen – even in subtle ways! So it’s essential that we pray for, and be open to the Spirit, every time we open the Bible! That’s not easy, because sometimes what the Spirit is saying to us, and what we ourselves want, are two different things. Sometimes it speaks to us and tells us things that are very challenging to us!
Well, I think leadership in the church is the same kind of thing. I often point out that the Constitution of the United States is similar to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church. That’s be cause the Presbyterian Constitution was one of the models used by those who framed the U. S. Constitution. We can be proud of that! However, there’s a subtle, but huge difference! In the U. S. Constitution, as a “Representative Democracy,” the representatives are supposed to be beholden to the people they represent. But in our “Representative Democracy,” that’s only part of the story. Yes, the “Presbyters” – the leaders – are beholden to the people they are representing, but they are also beholden to the Spirit of God! And just as the Spirit can be challenging to us in reading the scriptures, it can be challenging in our leadership and our decision making!
So, Authority, history, call to ministry, guidance of the Holy Spirit – those are things we celebrate here in this service. Yes, some are called to leadership. And as we celebrate that specifically today, we need to know that, for the rest of us, there are two important jobs. One, we need to pray for the people! They need to feel the “One 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, to follow! As I’ve said, when someone prays in a church setting, it’s not “praying for the people.” It’s “leading the people in prayer.” Everybody prays! Everybody is seeking that connection with God!
So when our leaders “lead us,” they are not so much “conducting the ministry of the church (us!), they are “leading us in ministry!” We are all about the business of the ministry of Jesus Christ. And that’s not easy. The “One Spirit” may lead us in ways that are beyond our “comfort zone!” We need to be ready for that!
And 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)
Yes, Paul tells us how we are all given “gifts” by the Spirit, but he is quick to point out that 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 today, but we are recognizing that we are all part of the ministry in which they are leading us.
So, as we celebrate this day, I would exhort you 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 to serve. 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.