Monthly Archives: January 2022

All you need is . .

Love. Love gets a good press, and remains universally popular. Yet Christian Love is somehow different. The early Christians knew:

  • love as family feeling
  • love as friendship with equals
  • love as sexual attraction

and still had to invent a new word for this quality of Jesus!

Now, let’s try a little experiment. I want you to read this with me:

I am patient and kind.
I do not demand my own way.
I am not irritable, and I keep no record of when I have been wronged.
I am never glad about injustice but rejoice whenever the truth wins out.
I never give up, never lose faith, am always hopeful, and endure through every circumstance.”

Did you have any difficulty in saying that? You may have recognised it was from 1 Corinthians 13 (today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13). But was it true? Did you laugh, or wonder if anyone hearing you might have laughed? Being honest, most of us would admit that – well, we don’t quite measure up to that.

So love is admired, important, and Christian. But it’s one thing to KNOW it, another to BE it. Growing up means taking Jesus as our model, and so we need to know him better. We also need the Holy Spirit to be working on our character, our motivation, and our habits. You may know the gospel stories well, but need to ask “How does that fit?”, “How do I do anything like that?”. It is a good question.

Body parts

The covid pandemic has taught us, again, how much we rely on other people. It is not so much the cutting edge medical discoveries – though we have been glad of rapidly developed vaccines – but the more mundane. Accident and emergency services, hospital care, key workers delivering food and taking away the rubbish – all the “ordinary” people have come into their own and had the vital work seen for what it is.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, when Paul compares the Christian community to a body (1 Cor 12. 12-31a), with diverse parts, but a unity found in their cooperation and coordination. Part of what we have learnt in the last couple of years is the equal importance of all the units. No matter how brilliant the physician, the work of the nurse, PPE supply chain driver, and oxygen system engineer are all equally vital for survival.

The church always has difficulty coming to terms with this (as do many other organisations). The creation of heirarchy, so that the “most important” may take precedence and reward, is always tempting. Yet the more frail and hidden parts of the body all have their place, and need support.

The problem comes in determining what is part of the body, and what is alien – whether infection, splinter, or worse. The Christian community is not the whole of society, though it welcomes all who wish to join. But there are those who do not wish to join, and will not accept the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

We face a similar problem with Covid. How are we to deal with those who not only decline treatment for themselves, but deny any need, and endanger others by spreading infection and discouraging safety measures?

Clearly there is a need to be charitable and patient as far as possible. But the Christian community has always needed to define its boundaries – which means that some are beyond them, at least for the time. Heresy is dangerous (whether as wrong belief or wrong action) because it causes harm. The body is weakened, and needs to take measures to recover. Jesus would seem to agree (Mark 9:47 and parallels), but the need to be charitable, to be sure that we have understood the belief and intention of others, remains.

There is a fashionable emphasis on “inclusion”, the importance of which is well illustrated in this lesson. The need to welcome all who would come to faith, and encourage them in the process of responding to the gospel, is of first importance in the Christian “body”. (And even more so because we have often forgotten this in the recent past). Sadly though, some will not wish to accept the yoke of Christ, the obligations of a disciple, their place among others. None of us are free to demand our own terms of acceptance, or to imagine that we are to instruct, rather than obey, the one we call Lord. Inclusion is important, but in a fallen world, not all will be included, however well our love reflects a God who cares for all.

Gifts to share

There are many sorts of churches to be found today. Large and small, traditional and very new, in a variety of western and eastern cultural styles. The diversity may sometimes be helpful, but a little baffling. I wonder if you have ever thought of categorising them by their ideal member?

Some patterns are clearly not good: the church where the ideal member is rich and gives a lot of money does not have much to commend it; nor does the church where the ideal member is clearly a “very important person” or recognised celebrity. Others are a bit more mixed: a church which expects humility has not got it all wrong – but may be in danger of oppressing members; a church which expects keen, extrovert enthusiasm likewise has some understanding, but may undervalue the quiet and thoughtful. Sadly many seem to think the ideal Anglican is dumb and never causes any trouble by questioning or disagreeing with anything!

It is interesting to note that Jesus didn’t seem to have a “preferred personality” for his disciples. They were mixed socially, professionally, and there were women in support as well as men. Some had traumatic backgrounds, others were educated, or ordinary working people.

So when Paul wants to tell us about Spiritual Gifts (in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11), we need to take notice, and not mutter excuses about preferring to make the tea or do the practical things. What he has to say is very straightforward, but seldom listened to or taken seriously.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 12:1-3

The Holy Spirit is expected to be active in all Christians from baptism, and makes faith possible in word and deed, which is how it is expected to show.

 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.

1 Cor 12:4-7

to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” There are things the Spirit does for the individual Christian ( – we call those “fruit”, and look at Galatians 5:22.) But here Paul says the spirit provides each and every Christian with a spiritual gift to use for the community. You have been given something to use for everyone else’s good – and each of them has something, too.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Cor 12:7-11

I don’t see Paul talking about being nice to people, or organising rotas – though both can be helpful. We have to face up to the fact that Paul says everyone is given a Spiritual Gift so that the congregation can be enriched and drawn together by the exchange of gifts and the mutual benefit. If we don’t identify our gifts, or refuse to practise them, then we weaken the church. If we don’t encourage other people to recognise and use their gifts, again, the fellowship is damaged.

This isn’t about some pushy people dominating the group, quite the opposite, it is about the group working to recognise and help each to contribute and all to benefit.

So what is the ideal member of our church? Not a particular type or personality, but someone happy to accept and use what God has given them for the benefit of others, and to receive from others what they can usefully offer. I wonder if we are like that yet?

Approval

Celebrating the Baptism of Jesus, we are reminded of the Holy Spirit coming to him, anointing him as prophets, priests and Kings of the Old Testament had been anointed. Then we read in Acts (Acts 8:14-17) how after the evangelistic work of Phillip the deacon in Samaria, two apostles were sent down to review the situation. It is not that he hadn’t done things properly, but this is a new departure, and the visible coming of the Spirit on these new believers is a heavenly endorsement of the mission.

The gospel is spreading, as the disciples had been told it would and should. It is perhaps significant that John the apostle, one of those who had wanted to call on heavenly fire to destroy a Samaritan village that refused hospitality to Jesus (Luke 9:54), is now an agent of the gift of God’s Spirit in Samaria.

We need to remember that the presence of the Spirit with believers is always essential. Whether we need guidance about which course God is sending us on, or motivation and strength to get on with it, or transformation of personalities and habits into a holy pattern, or wisdom to begin to understand – we all need the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives.

It is the welcome activity of the Spirit that is vital, not the form of delivery. Here the prayer and laying on of the apostles hands is the occasion leading to the visible arrival, in Acts 10:44 the Spirit arrives while Peter is still speaking, and Christians have normally understood the Spirit to be available to all those baptised in the name of Father, Son and Spirit. One Christian was famously rebuked for praying for a fresh gift of the Spirit for himself by another who challenged him that he had already received the Spirit. He wisely agreed, adding “But I leak!”. We all do, and need to recognise our continuing need for the Spirit to work in and through us.