1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.…
The work of God, the life of His Church — how strange, confused, and mixed, and accidental it looks, as we pass our eyes over the surface! And St. Paul, here, in my text, is looking on at his Church at Corinth; and he is hard pressed by accidents of circumstance, and by local details. Disordered as it may all look in its crude outward scene, to him, looking below, it is all under the control of a single principle, it is all the evidence of a single Supreme Agent. There is no accident and no chance, but everywhere one determining Force, and that Force is the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. He it is who is the swing of all these eddying motions. Wherever men believe, it is He who makes faith possible; and all varieties of human character, all the distinctions of personal peculiarities, do but display His solitary activity. Wherever and however, and so far as, men, through whatever means, loyally confess that the Man Jesus is the Christ of God, there we are to recognise, and to reverence, the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has no higher task than that which is set for it, and circumscribed for it, by the body of Christ. Wherever it speaks or works, it will be perfectly certain to make Jesus, the Man, prominent and emphatic. It will testify to His authority; it will make yet more precious His bodily appearance; it will magnify His historical position. Nothing that lowers the importance of Jesus, or dissolves His supremacy, or makes light of His unique value, can come from the Spirit. "No man, speaking with the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed." The Incarnation, then, operates upon the world of man with perfect regularity of law through the one Agent. He is the Worker, this Spirit of God; what, then, is His work? how does He apply the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to men? He does so in two modes, that to the outsider might seem contradictory, but which are but the effects of this one cause. First, the effect of the Spirit's stirring is seen in the outburst of spiritual gifts. Each soul is quickened by a new impulse; it thrills with a sense of fresh-born vitality; and new powers spring forth, and gifts break out from it. St. Paul watched the Spirit at work in that new church of his at Corinth; and how strong was that new wine, and how fiery the flame — how loud and full the prophecy! Each soul, made alive in Jesus, is brimming with the glory of its new endowment, the stress and storm of the Spirit are shocking these souls into ecstasy. Here it was intellectual insight, there it was prophetic vision; here it was spiritual passion, there it was administrative capacity. That was the outcome of the Spirit, the outbreak of individual freedom from experience. And then St. Paul looked, and there was another vision and another sight altogether. There he saw arising a stately and orderly fabric, the Church of God, the body of Christ. There he watched it, laying limb to limb, until the body came together, by joints and sinews, compacted together and bonded. There was the double vision: on the one side, an inner inspiration of individual souls exalted, varied, and ecstatic; on the other side, an outer assertion of visible order, administrative, complete, whole, and harmonious. And yet here was this point: contradictory as these effects might look, they are the symptoms, the outcome of one and the same Spirit. If the Spirit that quickens the individual gifts be the same that builds up the corporate Church, then, on the one hand, the inner and private experiences of souls need not view with suspicion and dislike the discipline of ecclesiastical rule or theological formulae; neither, on the other hand, ought the ecclesiastical system to condemn or distrust the freedom of individual spiritual experiences. Let us take the first point. These individual spiritual experiences, however manifold and varied, in being required to harmonise themselves with the Church order and with the formulated creed, are not asked to yield to some arbitrary restraint, to submit their claims to some general convenience not their own, to conform to a conventional expedient, necessary, perhaps, but still a bondage. Every corporate rule springs out of the same source as the individual experience. The Spirit that gives inner special personal experience is the same Spirit that builds the Church. In asserting their own peculiarities, no one gift can attribute a value to itself which it must not by the same necessity attribute to all the rest, for its one value comes to it from the Spirit in which they equally share. Whatever prerogative one gift possesses, that same advantage must all the other gifts possess. That purpose with which He allots the gift to this man must be the same with which He allots that other gift to that other. He who authorises the gift authorises the end, and if that ultimate purpose have no valid right, neither has the gift. And what is that purpose? — edification — the building of the body of Christ, the edification of all separate individual capacities to the enrichment of the corporate Church. If the Spirit who fills and frames the ecclesiastical fabric is still and always the Spirit that stirs into action all the manifold variety of individual gifts, then the Church, the system, ought not to have to condemn or dislike these inner spiritual experiences. Yet there is a very natural repugnance here. To us, loving the sweet calmness of the Spirit's orderly working, there cannot but be a shock as we face the turmoil and confusion which often beset the outbursts of His work in individual souls. Surely here is something repellent, something out of harmony with God's mind, something out of kinship with Christ's ancient heritage! So many instinctively feel, and, when they feel. so let them remember that the Spirit always has its double manifestation, remember that the same Spirit which shapes the sweet fabric which they love so dearly is the same Spirit who, as He stirs in the individual soul, shapes it into those passionate outbursts; those upheavals, they are His proper material, out of which He delights to build; not another spirit enkindles them, but He Himself. And, as He raises them, so He will not confront them as a foe, but will approach them as One who is at home with them, who is aware of their inner significance, who can greet them as a friend. True, He may have many a great lesson yet in store for these experiences. He does not for a moment desire that they should remain as they are in their present temporary disorder. But, for all that, He will not come to them as that which is to Him alien, shocking, or distressing. He will know the secret that is alive in all this stormy outpouring? As it bends down, then, in gracious seemliness, it will be in fullest sympathy. "Come to Me," it will be saying to all souls made alive in the Spirit, "come under My discipline, conform to My rule, not because you are bad, or dangerous, or human, or erring, not because you need some arbitrary external repression, but come to Me and obey My gift. You are already My own, of My malting, My inspiration. I awoke you because I needed you; I have a place for you in the work; for Me and by Me you were made; find, then, in Me your peace." And for ourselves we will remember, finally, that there is but one rule laid down by St. Paul to govern all our treatment of gifts and spiritual experiences, whether in ourselves or others — the rule of love, of edification. Love, first in relation to gifts not our own. Love will rejoice to recognise by how many paths men are brought to Christ, to recognise how infinite are the resources of the Spirit. It will be quick to recognise how sacred are individual diversities. It will respect all it can, find work in all it can, just because it is the very character and note of the one Spirit to exhibit His excellence in infinite diversity of operation. The first aim of love is to make its gift intelligible to all, useful to all, a common possession, a common good, and a common joy.
(Canon Scott Holland.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.